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    Census experts puzzled by high rate of unanswered questions


    Census Bureau statisticians and outside experts are trying to unravel a mystery: Why were so many questions about households in the 2020 census left unanswered?

    Residents did not respond to a multitude of questions about sex, race, Hispanic background, family relationships and age, even when providing a count of the number of people living in the home, according to documents released by the agency. Statisticians had to fill in the gaps.

    Reflecting an early stage in the number crunching, the documents show that 10% to 20% of questions were not answered in the 2020 census, depending on the question and state. According to the Census Bureau, later phases of processing show the actual rates were lower.

    The rates have averaged 1% to 3% in 170 years of previous U.S. censuses, according to University of Minnesota demographer Steven Ruggles.

    The information is important because data with demographic details will be used for drawing congressional and legislative districts. That data, which the Census Bureau will release Thursday, also is used to distribute $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

    The documents, made public in response to an open records request from a Republican redistricting advocacy group, don’t shed much light on why questions were left unanswered, though theories abound. Some observers say software used in the first census in which most Americans could respond online allowed people to skip questions. Others say the pandemic made it harder to reach people who didn’t respond.

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