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Census Bureau to launch coronavirus survey

Questions seek a glimpse of American life during a pandemic

Residents of the United States began receiving their 2020 census letters in the mail in March.
Residents of the United States began receiving their 2020 census letters in the mail in March. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Census Bureau will track changes among small businesses and the American public due to the coronavirus pandemic in a pair of surveys the agency announced late Tuesday.

The Small Business Pulse Survey and Household Pulse Survey will try to get a glimpse of the public in the middle of a pandemic. In its justification to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Census Bureau said no other survey has been able to adequately capture the impacts the crisis has had on the country.

[Census delay could help get better count of diverse communities]

Over the next three months, the Census Bureau will ask small businesses and households about economic upheaval, stay-at-home measures and other ways the pandemic has influenced their lives. The agency plans to send emails in the next few weeks.

“These rapid response data will provide federal, state and local agencies critical information to guide real-time response and interventions,” the agency wrote in its OIRA submission.

Census officials will send the survey to more than 13 million households and compile the results weekly, the agency said. The survey will ask for gender, race and ethnicity, as well as questions that signify the times, like whether people have been able to stop worrying, whether they have enough food and whether they’ve had to put off medical care due to the pandemic.

Several other agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have sought OIRA approvals to gain more information about the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The Census Bureau wrote that beyond the Pulse Survey, it plans to collect other information about the pandemic in its larger, more formalized surveys, such as the Current Population Survey, later this year.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for months, possibly years, to come . . . given the rapidly changing dynamics of this situation, we must respond to the acute need for data on the situation as it is unfolding now,” the agency wrote.

The small-business survey will include results for all 50 states and the 50 largest metropolitan areas. The household survey will include results for all the states and the 15 largest metropolitan areas.

“Results of this survey could provide useful information to the public, businesses, and policymakers for understanding how changes in business operations, employment, hours, and the availability of consumer goods and services are impacting American life,” the announcement said.

Efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus have frustrated the Census Bureau’s own work on the 2020 census, with the agency delaying field operations until at least June.

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