The data are already collected
Demographers also are toying with whether the Bureau should take advantage of existing records, such as social security, tax returns and draft records. This would eliminate the nonresponse problem, but would have to be supplemented with enumeration for those who are not on record with the government.
At the 2010 American Statistical Association's Joint Statistical Meeting to be held this summer in Vancouver, demographers will pitch new ideas for data collection in a session called "What if 2010 was the last census?" Swanson and New York City's chief demographer Joseph Salvo have been invited to share their thoughts on the topic. They both propose using some form of existing documentation. "We have to look for different lists that are already out there," Salvo says. "If a person is part of that list, that might be their way of responding."
Using government records for demographic information is a controversial idea, not only because enumeration is mandated by law but also because people are skeptical about trusting the government to protect their privacy. "We have to talk to people about whether we could use that information," Weinburg says.
Could taking advantage of existing records retire the census, as we know it, for good? Swanson says that combining the Master Address File (a regularly updated map of every household) with preexisting documents would yield about 85 percent of the required data. The remaining 15 percent would come from what Swanson calls his "secret sauce," which he'll reveal during his presentation this summer, and no sooner. "This is how a radically different census could be done," he says.