U.S. Census Bureau still need paper forms

December 21, 2012

For the first time, the U.S. Census Bureau will be conducting the American Community Survey using online forms instead of paper. The move, which is done in hopes of gaining more responses and saving paper, is expected to save $3 million. However, some worry that by making the change to an online survey, the survey will miss vital data from Americans who do not have access to the internet.

The ACS is a survey conducted yearly, asking 3.5 million Americans questions in order to decide how national and state funds will be allocated. While there was some discussion about conducting the 2010 U.S. Census using an online format, security fears eventually discouraged the Census Bureau. However, since there were fewer and fewer responses to the AMC each year, the Bureau decided to make the switch, and the online surveys will be sent this week. For those who do not respond, a paper survey will be sent.

However, by only asking those with access to the internet, some are worried the AMC is ignoring some communities, such as the homeless, minority groups and low-income Americans.

“An internet option cannot come at the expense of reaching hard-to-count communities,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told the AP. “Because of disparities in internet access, this is no silver bullet to increasing response rates and could make racial and language minorities, as well as rural residents, even harder to count than they are now.”

The Census, which takes place every 10 years and counts every American as opposed to a sample, has used paper surveys in the past to reach every resident, regardless of their internet access. And until internet access is available to every person, paper will continue to be used when surveys are sent to hard-to-reach groups, proving the continued need for forms processing services, even in the digital age.