The Census Bureau for years has been urged by members of Congress to move to an Internet-based system, partly to help cut costs. But concerns remain as it is studied for use in the 2020 census, which counts the entire U.S. population rather than a representative sample. The once-a-decade count has traditionally missed hard-to-track groups such as minorities, the homeless and the poor, who also may be less likely to have access to computers.
Recent government tests have shown that U.S. residents who are more likely to respond to surveys online are younger, Asian, non-black, or "other" race, with higher education. Those living in larger households as well as those who speak a language other than English at home also were more likely to fill out Internet forms.
Reaching hard-to-count groups has been a major factor behind ballooning costs to the census, which sustains its biggest costs when it has to send survey-takers to households.
"An Internet option cannot come at the expense of reaching hard-to-count communities. 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," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of various civil rights groups.
"The bureau cannot use this as an excuse to scale back the field offices and programs that ensure everyone gets counted, regardless of race, language, or ZIP code," he said.
Census officials say planning for the 2020 census is under way, and that money saved by implementing an Internet option could possibly be used to pay for additional efforts to track hard-to-count groups.