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Preparing for the 2020 Census: Observing In-Office Address Canvassing

Wed Jun 15 2016
Written by John H. Thompson
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Today I visited the National Processing Center, the U.S. Census Bureau’s large-scale data processing center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to observe its role in preparing for the 2020 Census. The National Processing Center collects and processes data for more than 150 demographic and economic surveys, including the decennial census. It also houses some of the Census Bureau’s geographic operations, which play a critical role in providing the framework for survey design, sample selection, data collection, tabulation and dissemination for the 2020 Census.

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An accurate address list is the cornerstone of a high-quality census. As we prepare for 2020, one of the four key areas of innovation we’re pursuing is re-engineering the way we build our address list. In the past, census workers would build the list by walking every street in America. Today while preparing for 2020, we are using technology and new information sources to update our address list through a process known as “in-office address canvassing.”

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In-office address canvassing starts with clerks updating the 2010 Census address list based on new information from the U.S. Postal Service and tribal, state, and local governments, as well as commercially-available data. Then, they use satellite imagery and use geographic information systems to identify areas where substantial address changes are occurring. This review process gives us a handle on what housing changes have occurred since the last census, how well the Census Bureau’s address list is keeping up with the changes, and how likely changes are to occur in the future. In areas with rapid change or where we can’t verify addresses from the National Processing Center (about 25 percent of addresses), we’ll conduct in-field canvassing.

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National Processing Center staff began working on in-office address canvassing in 2015, and they’ll continue all the way through 2020. Address canvassing is an indispensable part of a complete and accurate census that counts everyone in America once, only once, and in the right place. By using more in-office procedures to cut down on in-field canvassing, we can potentially save $900 million, compared to the cost of updating our address lists the old way.

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For more information about how we’ll re-engineer our address canvassing process for the 2020 Census, check out the Detailed Operational Plan for the Address Canvassing Operation. To learn more about the National Processing Center, visit <>.

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