Decennial Census:

Lessons Learned for Locating and Counting Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers

GAO-03-605: Published: Jul 3, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 2003.

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One of the U.S. Census Bureau's (Bureau) long-standing challenges has been counting migrant farm workers. Although the Bureau goes to great lengths to locate these individuals, its efforts are often hampered by the unconventional and hidden housing arrangements, distrust of outsiders, and language and literacy issues often associated with this population group. To help inform the planning for the 2010 Census, we were asked to review the adequacy of the Bureau's procedures for locating migrant farm workers and their dwellings during the 2000 Census, and the steps, if any, that the Bureau can take to improve those procedures.

The Bureau used over a dozen operations to ensure a complete address list and accurate maps for the 2000 Census. To the extent that the operations were properly implemented, their design appears to have been adequate for identifying the hidden dwellings in which some migrant farm workers live, such as basement apartments. However, the operations were not as well suited to overcoming other difficulties associated with locating migrant farm workers such as language and literacy issues and a distrust of outsiders. These challenges were surmounted more effectively by relying on local advocacy groups and others in the community who knew where and how migrant farm workers lived, and could facilitate the Bureau's access to those areas. The Bureau's plans for the 2010 Census include an ambitious program to make its maps more accurate. However, additional steps will be needed. Local and regional census offices employed innovative practices during the 2000 Census that could help improve the Bureau's ability to locate migrant farm workers in 2010. They include partnering with state and local governments earlier in the decade when many address-listing operations take place (during the 2000 Census, the Bureau's partnership program was used largely to get people to participate in the Census, but these activities took place after the Bureau had completed most of its address list development activities). Other innovations included making use of address information from local advocacy groups to help find migrant farm workers, and using census and other demographic data strategically to plan operations and target resources to those areas with high numbers of migrant farm workers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau provided an action plan on October 30, 2003, and GAO considers this recommendation implemented and closed. The Census Bureau's master address file (MAF) consists of two types dwellings: housing units such as single-family homes, apartments, and mobile homes, and what the Bureau calls "special places and group quarters." A special place is an entity with which a group quarters is linked. For example, a university is a special place and a dormitory is a group quarters linked to the university. GAO found that one of the shortcomings of the automated system that tracked field operations was that it did not show a group quarters that was in one local census office's jurisdiction, if the group quarters were linked to a special place in another office's jurisdiction. Additionally, two sets of instructions that told workers how to handle these situations conflicted with one another. The Bureau's strategy for the 2010 Census will be to focus Special Places and Group Quarters (SP/GQ) frame development, enumeration, and processing activities on the group quarters units themselves, which the Bureau believes will minimize the kinds of enumeration and geocoding difficulties it experienced in instances where a special place and one or more of its associated group quarters were in different local census office areas.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, ensure that the link between Special Places and Group Quarters is clear to those implementing the operations and that responsibility for ensuring each group quarter is enumerated is clearly delegated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We consider this recommendation closed and implemented. Bureau Officials told us that, for the 2010 Census, they will be providing training materials in languages other than English for targeted areas.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, consider providing training materials in languages other than English to targeted areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau concurred with the recommendation and agreed to, as part of its 2010 Census planning process, explore ways to use geopraphic information to identify areas with large migrant farm workers and other hard-to-count populations, thus allowing the Bureau to better plan operations and target resources. In July 2007, the Bureau informed us that the planning database implementation team had drafted requirements that include thematic maps that will be used to identify areas with large migrant farm worker and other hard-to-count populations.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, explore integrating census, MAF/TIGER, and other data to produce a geographic information system and thematic maps that would identify those areas with large migrant farm worker and other hard-to-count populations in order to better plan operations and target resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau provided an action plan on October 30, 2003, and GAO considers this recommendation implemented and closed. The Census Bureau frequently obtained information about special places and group quarters from local advocacy and community groups. In one instance, the Bureau's Los Angeles regional office partnered with a nongovernmental migrant farm worker advocacy group to improve coverage of housing units in areas populated by many migrant farm workers. Staff members of the advocacy group canvassed communities where they knew migrant farm workers lived and, because they were familiar with the types of structures migrant farm workers used as dwellings and were known by many of the workers, they were able to identify 3,076 addresses, which the Bureau added to its list of housing units to be visited during census follow-up operations. GAO found that Bureau officials knew of no other instances where the Bureau accepted address data from nongovernmental sources. The Bureau is working with advocacy and other groups to identity locations with concentrations of migrant farm workers and will implement improved listing procedures to identify various living quarters in these locations.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, consider developing protocols that would allow the Bureau to take advantage of housing unit information kept by advocacy and other responsible groups, while preserving the confidentiality and integrity of the Bureau's master address list.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau provided an action plan on October 30, 2003, and GAO considers this recommendation implemented and closed. The Census Bureau partnered with state, local, and tribal governments as well as religious, media, educational, and other communicate organizations to improve participation in the 2000 census and to mobilize support for other operations. GAO found that the full complement of partnership program staff did not come on board until several months after the Bureau completed the bulk of its address list-building activities. Had the full complement of partnership specialists been available to support the listing operations in 1998 and 1999, they could have encouraged greater participation on the part of local governments and community groups in building a better address list for the 2000 census. The Bureau agreed with GAO's recommendation and, as part of its research and development program for the 2010 Census, is investigating bringing on board additional partnership specialists to assist in a targeted fashion with address list development activities.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, study the feasibility of staffing partnership efforts at higher levels earlier in the decade of support key address list development efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau provided an action plan on October 30, 2003, and GAO considers this recommendation implemented and closed. The Census Bureau used over a dozen operations to ensure a complete address list and accurate maps for the 2000 Census. To the extent that the operations were properly implemented, their design appears to have been adequate for identifying the hidden dwellings in which some migrant farm workers live. However, GAO found that the operations were not as well suited to overcoming other difficulties associated with locating migrant farm workers, such as language and literacy issues. These challenges were surmounted more effectively by relying on local advocacy groups and others in the community who knew where and how migrant farm workers lived, and could facilitate the Bureau's access to those areas. The Bureau has established 11 planning groups designed to examine lessons learned from Census 2000 and then to coordinate planning, development, and testing activities throughout the decade to reengineer the 2010 census. The 2010 Special Place/Group Quarters Planning Group has reviewed and identified several lessons learned and best practices from Census 2000 and is using this information to develop plans for more effectively locating and counting migrant and seasonal farm workers in the 2010 census.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, identify best practices and lessons learned from the 2000 Census and ensure that they are incorporated into planning efforts for the 2010 Census.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau provided an action plan on October 30, 2003, and GAO considers this recommendation implemented and closed. The Census Bureau used over a dozen operations to ensure a complete address list and accurate maps for the 2000 Census. To the extent that the operations were properly implemented, their design appears to have been adequate for identifying the hidden dwellings in which some migrant farm workers live. However, GAO found that the operations were not as well suited to overcoming other difficulties associated with locating migrant farm workers such as language and literacy issues. These challenges were surmounted more effectively by relying on local advocacy groups and others in the community who knew where and how migrant farm workers lived, and could facilitate the Bureau's access to those areas. The Bureau has created the 2010 Coverage Improvement Planning Group, which is exploring ways to improve the accuracy of census coverage. One of the group's objectives is to improve coverage by identifying the best methods for updating the Master Address File. In the course of this work, the Bureau indicated that it will develop and test new or improved address list updating activities.

    Recommendation: To ensure a more complete count of migrant and seasonal farm workers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to, as part of its planning process for the 2010 Census, ensure that MAF-building operations are properly tested and integrated with other census operations, and are adequate for locating migrant and seasonal farm workers and other hard-to-count groups.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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