Census Bureau Algorithm Adds Noise to the Population of Monowi, Nebraska

(p. B1) The resident of Nebraska’s only one-person town was surprised when she heard the news.

The U.S. Census Bureau was reporting that Monowi’s population had exploded by 100% and was now home to two people, according to 2020 Census data it recently released.

“Well, then someone’s been hiding from me, and there’s nowhere to live but my house,” Elsie Eiler said Wednesday. “But if you find out who he is, let me know?”

His name is Noise, and he was created by an algorithm to try to protect Eiler’s personal information. Monowi didn’t add another resident to its population, but the Census Bureau did.

“What you’re seeing there is the noise we add to the data so you can’t figure out who is living there,” a bureau spokeswoman said. “It protects the privacy of the respondent and the confidentiality of the data they provide.”

The bureau doesn’t invent respondents, the spokeswoman said. But it does shift them from one census block or tract to another. And while the discrepancies might be apparent and confusing at that micro level — like when a town’s only resident is shocked to hear that she has a neighbor — the numbers are still accurate when zoomed further out, like at the congressional district level.

For the full story, see:

PETER SALTER, Lincoln Journal Star. “Monowi, Nebraska, is still a one-person town, despite what 2020 Census says.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, Aug. 30, 2021): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 30, 2021, and has the title “Monowi, Nebraska, is still a one-person town, despite what 2020 Census says.”)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.