Changes to the Census Could Make Small Towns Disappear


A recent analysis by Randall Akee, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that on reservations with fewer than 5,000 people, the algorithm decreased the population of Native Americans by an average of 34 percent.

The law requires individual census records to be kept confidential for 72 years. Fearing that data brokers using new statistical techniques could de-anonymize the published population totals, the bureau is testing an algorithm that will scramble the final numbers. Imaginary people will be added to some locations and real people will be removed from others.

The more the algorithm muddles the results, the more difficult it will be, for example, for a data scientist to combine a set of addresses and credit scores with census results to learn the age and race of people living on a certain block.

While the algorithm helps protect respondents’ confidentiality, a test run on the last census shows it may produce wildly inaccurate numbers for rural areas and minority populations.


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