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Census Bureau to Gather Data on Disruptions Caused by Coronavirus Outbreak

April 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
Some of the paper work previously used by census takers. (Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Census Bureau is launching two new surveys to gather data on disruptions to households and small businesses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The bureau received emergency approval from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Sunday to conduct a Household Pulse Survey within the next 90 days to gauge the impact the pandemic has had on the country.

“Responses from these experimental surveys will be posted within weeks of collection and will provide insight into the scope of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic response on social and economic measures in the U.S.,” the Census Bureau said in a press release.

The information collected will come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as from the 50 most populated Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country.

The bureau defines a metropolitan statistical area as a geographical region with a relatively high population density at its core and close economic ties throughout the area.

The Small Business Pulse Survey will include a limited number of questions on topics such as location closings, changes in employment, disruptions in the supply chain, the use of federal assistance programs, and expectations concerning future operations.

Out of necessity, the bureau will collect the information online and anticipates the survey will take participants about five minutes to complete.

Each week during the study period, over 100,000 small businesses will receive the Small Business Pulse Survey and will be asked to respond within seven days.

Over the course of nine weeks, nearly one million small businesses will receive an invitation to participate. For the purposes of the survey, a small business will be defined as having a single location and one to 499 employees.

The Household Pulse Survey builds upon long standing efforts by the Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies to document trends in how individuals are experiencing business curtailment and closures, stay-at-home orders, school closures, changes in the availability of consumer goods and other abrupt and significant changes to American life.

The other participating agencies are the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the USDA Economic Research Service.

The bureau said question wording and weighting procedures are likely to change over the course of the implementation. It expects to produce and disseminate data it collects on a weekly basis.

In his letter requesting permission to undertake the two data collection efforts, Deputy Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said compiling the information is essential to fulfilling the bureau’s mission as the nation’s leading source of data on the nation’s people and economy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unanticipated event that is unprecedented in the sudden and dramatic manner in which it is impacting the social and economic well-being of American households,” Jarmin wrote. ” At this critical juncture, it is imperative for the federal statistical system to produce real-time, objective data on the impacts on American households as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Though COVID-19-related questions are being developed for inclusion in a larger benchmark study that will be conducted later this year, “given the rapidly changing dynamics of this situation, we must respond to the acute need for data on the situation as it is unfolding now,” Jarmin said.

“These rapid response data will provide federal, state and local agencies critical information to guide real-time response and interventions,” he said.

The bureau’s survey will gather data on employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, education disruptions, as well as physical and mental wellness that will inform how federal, state and local agencies respond to the pandemic in the weeks ahead.

“By collecting these data in one instrument and as one coordinated multi-agency effort, we will produce these data quickly, efficiently and with a minimum of burden,” Jarmin said.

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