Episode 31: Getting the Sense of US from the Census
Release Date: 05/01/2017
John H. Thompson is the 24th Census Bureau Director. The Census Bureau prepares the 2020 Census and over more than 100 other censuses and surveys, which measure America's people, places and economy, and provide the basis for crucial economic indicators such as the unemployment rate.
John Bailer: I'd like to welcome you today's Stats and Short Stories episode. Stats and short stories is a partnership between Miami University and the American Statistical Association. Today's guest is John Thompson, director of the Census Bureau. We're very excited to have him here. I'm John Bailer, I'm Chair of the Department of Statistics at Miami University and I'm joined by my colleague, Richard Campbell, Chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film. We're delighted to be speaking with John on this short episode today. Welcome John!
John Thompson: Glad to be here.
Bailer: You know, one of the things that we're really curious about, and this is to hear a little bit more about our data, that the Census Bureau collects, not necessarily just through the census but through some of the other surveys as well, that that you do, used to make decisions both in the federal government and more broadly in industry?
Thompson: The Census Bureau collects a wide variety of data and provides it as information. So, starting with the decennial census, it has some primary purposes in re-apportioning the Congress every ten years, redrawing congressional districts and local legislative districts, and also it provides information to the agencies that look at civil rights enforcement. The American Community Survey, which is very closely related to the census, is used to allocate over four hundred billion dollars of federal funding annually, and is also used by local governments and businesses to make an informed decisions. Then, turning to our demographic area, we have a program that we call the "small area estimates of income and poverty" and that produces estimates on an annual basis that are used to allocate block grants. We produce a series of the estimates called "small area estimates" of health insurance and they are used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look at the availability of proper insurance for cancer prevention or a cancer cure. We produce an annual series of population estimates which come out on annual basis and these are, these support a lot of municipal grant needs. Turning to our economic side, we produce thirteen key principal economic indicators and these are used to chronicle the economy. These can be either on the monthly basis or a quarterly basis. They also serve as a real tool for investments because you can really see the markets move after these indicators are released. And finally we produce information for the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Bureau of Economic Analysis produces estimates of gross domestic product and we give them that eighty percent of the information that supports that calculation or estimation and that would include information on retail sales, on foreign imports and on services. So it's really gratifying to be working an agency which has this broad portfolio of data production and data uses.
Richard Campbell: How do you, how do you let people know about what data is available? How do you communicate that to businesses and to the public? Or are do, are they just expected to know, go to the census, and you'll see, what, you know, these…these different, where these different studies are?
Thompson: We actually have an entire organization within the Census Bureau and that does communications.
Campbell: Uh hmm.
Thompson: And a big part of what they do, is reaching out to various stakeholders in our products and making sure, one, they are aware of them, two, making sure that if they need answers to certain questions, that we have subject matter experts available to them, and you know, and helping them use the data too.
Bailer: This is, this is great. I'm going to ask you that to follow up on a quick technical point that you raised. You said small area estimation.
Bailer: Can you explain, just give a quick explanation of that, for people who have never heard of that before?
Speaker 2: Yeah, so quick explanation. Let me try to do this.
(Multiple people laughing)
Thompson: Well, no, you know, you are a statistician, you would appreciate this. So when you do sample surveys, you can only produce direct estimates from a sample survey when you have enough sample to do that. So that's usually for larger areas. So, small area estimates are where we use statistical model to produce local area estimates of poverty and health insurance. I don't know if that really answers the question.
Bailer: That's good, so...
Thompson: But it's really taking statistical modeling and using that in lieu or in a supplement to direct data collection.
Bailer: Very good! Perfect! Outstanding! Well that's been great. It's been our pleasure to have John Thompson join us on Stats and Short Stories. Stats and Stories is a partnership between Miami University's Departments of Statistics and Media, Journalism and Film, and the American Statistical Association. Stay tuned and keep following us on Twitter or iTunes. We'd like to share your thoughts on our program. Send your e-mail to stats and stories at Miami oh.edu and be sure to listen for future episodes where we discuss the statistics behind the stories and the stories behind the statistics.
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