Why the 2020 Census Should Be Done Online

The U.S. Census Bureau needs to consider a major overhaul of how it will count the population 10 years from now, perhaps replacing mailed-in forms with Internet forms, the National Research Council reported last month.

The Census Bureau -- now working on the 2010 decennial census -- is still using the same techniques it used in 1970: mailed-in forms and follow-up enumeration using pencil and paper. The bureau had to ditch an ill-fated effort to use handheld computers for this year's census.

The report urged the Census Bureau to consider using the Internet and automated telephone systems for data collection, as well as handheld computers for follow-ups. Ten years from now people may disregard postal mail as an anachronism, the report noted, and the postal system is in financial trouble.

The report added that the Census Bureau could also use the administrative data that other government agencies already have about U.S. residents.

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