Interview with David Kraiker, US Census Data Specialist

On 3 December 2018 the Language Maps, Language Clouds team had the opportunity to interview David Kraiker of the US Census Bureau who has visited our classroom in the past to share free ways to use ACS language-related data. Below is an overview of the conversation; boldface sections summarize the LMLC team’s questions. To listen to the audio files, click here.

What made you want to work for the Census? David started working at the US Census Bureau after a stint at a map publishing company. He was attracted by better compensation, but he continues to work for the Census Bureau because he is able to help with encouraging the use of data in the hope of improving society. “What makes me want to work for the Census Bureau…I do more for society in this job than I did when I was creating atlases. People are using the data that we have, I hope for good purposes and it’s a way of improving society”.

We are interested in language data; are there any updates as to whether language data will continue to be collected and shared in the ACS as well as in the decennial census? When asked this question, David explained that the Decennial Census does not get into more than very general questions such as “Do you speak English or Spanish?” unlike the ACS, which does.

Are there any updates to the decision to reinstate the citizenship question in the 2020 Census? Regarding the 2020 Decennial Census, the team and I asked David if there will be a question inserted about citizenship. In response, he explained how it is hard to insert or add a question to the census, but if they did, a question such as “Are you a citizen or not a citizen?” would have to be kept confidential as there is a fine if you share the ACS information.

“I don’t know where it stands. It’s pretty hard for the Census Bureau as we get closer to the Census to just insert a question. So I do not know where it’s going to go, but I have a feeling the closer we get to the Census, the more difficult it will be to insert a question. The question is already asked on the American Community Survey. The question is ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’ The question is not ‘Are you here legally or illegally?’…The people who work for the Census Bureau  are not allowed to release information about the interviews they have done”

What is the best way to study/track data on the number of people reported to be practicing Islam since 9/11 beyond 2008? The team and I learned the US Census does not ask people about their religion or what people believe in (such as owning guns, abortion, along with other topics). To look into this subject, one would have to [infer] where people are from. Interestingly, religious organizations helped pioneer the Census in the US; many churches in 1910 did their own censuses, for instance. “We don’t ask people about their religion, so we just don’t ask that question. You would have to look for the countries people are from”.

Data comparing the profile of members of Congress to the US population as a whole based on a specific attributes was posted on Facebook last summer. The image can be found at left. If we were interested in exploring linkages between US rates of poverty to the attributes shown (percentage of millionaires, white men, women, persons over 55 in Congress), for instance, how would we go about it? David speculated that the chart was generated by a commingling of data between ACS and somewhere else. Often statistical relevance varies depending on where the information was derived from and other factors. David was unable to form an opinion on whether there was a link between rates of poverty in the US to the percentage of millionaires and percentage of white men in Congress.

Will questions will be added to the ACS regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health illness, and disability? To add a question to the ACS it takes about five years. In the 2018 survey, the most recent survey, the following question is asked, “How is person two or person three related to person number one?” This type of language is more open and may be referring to a husband, wife, or roommate. On the American census survey, there is currently a question that includes “all” or many disabilities.

The Language Maps, Language Clouds team had a wonderful time meeting up with David Kraiker. He encourages students and recent graduates to consider working for the US Census, whether as part of the Decennial census or as translators/community resources. We were happy to have had the opportunity to discuss a range of important topics related but not limited to language.

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