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Data to Inform the Public and Decision-Makers During a Global Pandemic

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This began as a busy year for the U.S. Census Bureau. In January, we officially kicked off the constitutionally mandated once-a-decade population count in Toksook Bay and other parts of rural Alaska – and just a few months later the rest of the country began receiving invitations to respond to the 2020 Census.

With the arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Census Bureau leadership, putting the health and safety of our staff and the public first, made difficult decisions to delay and extend certain 2020 Census operations. We also adjusted data collection for many of our ongoing household and business surveys.

While we have modified some of our work, we have still been able to maintain operations, release our data products, and continue to serve the data user community during this unprecedented time.  

In response to the pandemic, the Census Bureau has collaborated with several federal agencies and developed two new surveys designed to collect and deploy data quickly to gauge the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on individuals and small businesses in America.

The innovative Household Pulse Survey and Small Business Pulse Survey provide data on ways the pandemic has affected households and small businesses, and measure how these change over time.

The Household Pulse Survey captures information from individuals on employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, education disruptions and dimensions of health. We contact respondents via email or text messages.

The Small Business Pulse Survey captures information from businesses with one to 499 employees on location closings, changes in employment, disruptions in the supply chain, the use of federal assistance programs, and expectations concerning future operations.

These are the first Census Bureau surveys with respondents contacted exclusively through email. These proofs-of-concept will demonstrate if we can conduct email-only (and text message) surveys to quickly collect and provide useful data to help inform economic aid and recovery planning during crises such as this. Data collection for the Pulse Surveys will continue for 60 to 90 days. Tabulations and visualizations are set to publish weekly.

We have also created a new interactive data hub at covid19.census.gov, recognized by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) as a COVID-19 Hub Site of the Week, which centralizes data from the American Community Survey and the County Business Patterns program to facilitate users’ access to data useful in pandemic-related decision-making. The new data hub is part of the resource page at census.gov that provides access to data useful to federal agencies, businesses, and communities in making decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While much of our current focus is on the 2020 Census and COVID-19, we have not neglected our other critically important ongoing surveys and censuses. Importantly, we have stayed on schedule for releasing our Economic Indicators, which provide high-quality data critical for tracking the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy. Working from home, staff at all levels have been pitching in from across the Census Bureau, including our National Processing Center, to ensure quality data collection during this difficult time for U.S. businesses.

In September 2019, we began to release data from our 2017 Economic Census, which provides baseline information covering approximately $18 trillion or 85% of the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product). The 2017 Economic Census collected data on U.S. businesses nationwide, including those in U.S. territories. Businesses were asked to report their 2017 year-end numbers for each business location, including sales or revenue, employment, payroll and industry-specific information. We are grateful to the millions of businesses that completed the 2017 Economic Census. All data releases are set to be completed by December 2021.

The releases of the Vintage 2019 population estimates remain on schedule and we have maintained all current surveys active in the field, thanks to the resourcefulness and dedication of our partners in the field and at headquarters, the regional offices, and the National Processing Center. We have changed data collection protocols and are evaluating the impact of those changes on the resulting data, and we are continuing to collaborate with the Research and Methodology Directorate to implement differential privacy in 2020 Census data products. 

While we are facing challenges, we are optimistic about the path ahead. We will continue to innovate and achieve results in an effective and efficient manner. We will maintain organizational and professional integrity and continue to be transparent with the public by updating information at census.gov.

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