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Census 2010 Participation Rate Analysis (Week 4)

Be Counted, America! How are we doing? (Part 4)

An analysis of the first four weeks of participation in the 2010 Census


April 21, 2010

The Center for Urban Research (CUR) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) has analyzed the latest mail-in participation rates from the 2010 decennial census in an effort to understand which areas present the greatest challenges during the Nonresponse Follow-up operation and to help census advocates target the next phase of their outreach activities based on key demographic characteristics in each neighborhood. The Census Bureau will continue publishing mail-in rate data this week and will announce the final rate on April 26. We expect to provide a final analysis soon thereafter.

As of April 20, the national rate was 71%, almost matching the final 2000 participation rate of 72%. Strong response by mail is important because households not counted through the mail will now be enumerated through door-to-door interviews, a much more expensive and time consuming operation. According to the Census Bureau, it saves $85 million in follow-up costs for each one percent of households that answers the census by mail. If the nation eventually exceeds its 2000 rate, it will be the second decade in a row that the census mail-back rate has increased over the previous decade, a historic shift in one barometer of the nation’s civic engagement.

Though the nation as a whole has not yet matched its 2000 mail-in participation rate, many states, counties, and tracts surged ahead of their 2000 rates, while others fell far short of that mark. This week’s analysis continues our examination of the relationship between participation rates, race/ethnicity, and hard-to-count scores, especially comparing high-response tracts with other tracts in major cities. It also highlights the low-response tracts in major cities, to provide insight for the Census Bureau and partner organizations as enumeration efforts now focus on households that did not mail back their questionnaires. The map above depicts the 2010 mail-in patterns by county as of April 20. You can download the map here [PDF].

Advocates and others can visualize patterns of mail-in participation at the tract, county, and state levels at The map can help pinpoint areas for census participation follow up. High-achieving areas are highlighted with red check marks. The following map shows Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, NY:


Brooklyn & lower Manhattan  

Neighborhoods with relatively low participation rates are obvious on the map. (These areas will be the focus of more expansive door-to-door enumeration efforts starting May 1.) In the map example above, pockets of dark blue census tracts (with participation rates in the 30% range) stand out amid clusters of check marks indicating high-achieving tracts.

Other features at the site that are not available on the Census Bureau's “Take 10” map include:

  • A searchable, sortable display of best and worst performing tracts by county nationwide (based on their latest mail-in participation rates);
  • Maps of areas that received a replacement Census questionnaire;
  • Map overlays showing Congressional districts, ZIP Codes, tract-level maps of 2000 Census mail return rates, and recent foreclosure risk; and
  • Real-time, geo-located Census-related Tweets.

Our detailed findings for Week 4 can be downloaded at the link above, or by clicking here. [PDF] Our findings are summarized below.

For our analysis of earlier 2010 participation rates, click here for Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.

Key Findings from Week 4 (as of April 20)

1. “High achievers” nationwide

Two states – North Carolina and South Carolina – have surpassed their 2000 mail-in rate by 5 percentage points or more.

  • All but two counties in North Carolina, and all but three in South Carolina, exceeded their 2000 rates.

Almost 22% of the nation’s counties (680) have exceeded their 2000 participation rate by 5 percentage points or more. Last week (as of April 13) 472 counties had achieved this level. The greatest concentrations were in the South – especially North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia, and to a lesser extent Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

The following map shows countywide participation rates in 2010 compared with 2000. The dark green shaded counties are ahead of their 2000 rates by 5 percentage points or more.


Nearly 18% of the nation’s tracts (11,340) exceeded their 2000 participation rate by 5 percentage points or more. This is almost twice as many tracts than had achieved this level last week (as of April 13).

  • Already, nine census tracts have reached 100% participation through the mail. The list below provides links to the Census 2010 map of these communities. In 2000, only 13 tracts had achieved a 100% mail-in rate.
  1. Census Tract 112 in Washington County, AR (pop. in 2000: 1,860)
  2. Census Tract 6035 in San Mateo County, CA (pop. in 2000: 42)
  3. Census Tract 7031 in New London County, CT (pop. in 2000: 1,494)
  4. Census Tract 5291 in Tolland County, CT (pop. in 2000: 5,017)
  5. Census Tract 108 in Dougherty County, GA (pop. in 2000: 1,016)
  6. Census Tract 68.01 in Fulton County, GA (pop. in 2000: 2,648)
  7. Census Tract 6 in Douglas County, NV (pop. in 2000: 2,128)
  8. Census Tract 102.01 in Butler County, OH (pop. in 2000: 1,825)
  9. Census Tract 13 in Taylor County, TX (pop. in 2000: 900)

2. Low participation tracts – the focus of door-to-door enumeration starting in May

Five percent (5%) of the nation’s census tracts (3,510) had participation rates of 50 percent or less as of April 20. The Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) operation, when more than 600,000 census takers will visit homes that did not mail back their questionnaires, will be far more difficult in communities with low participation rates in the first phase of the census.

The nationwide median HTC score for these lowest-achieving census tracts is 59, indicating that they tend to be somewhat hard to count historically.

Based on 2000 demographic data, these low-performing tracts tended to have more diverse populations than tracts with higher participation rates, on average:

  • 46% non-Hispanic White
  • 31% non-Hispanic Black
  • 16% Hispanic
  • 3% non-Hispanic Asian
  • 4% other races.

By comparison, tracts with mail-in rates above 50% have a very different race/ethnic composition on average nationwide:

  • 70% non-Hispanic White
  • 13% non-Hispanic Black
  • 11% Hispanic
  • 3% non-Hispanic Asian
  • 2% other races.

3. Low participation tracts in cities

A comparison of non-urbanized areas to cities shows substantial differences in characteristics of low-participation tracts (those with mail-in rates of 50% or less).

The median HTC score for low-performing tracts in cities is 80 compared with 41 in non-urban areas.

On average, low-performing tracts in non-urban areas have a non-Hispanic White population of 71%. In inner cities, these tracts on average are predominantly non-Hispanic Black (51%) and Hispanic (19%), while the non-Hispanic White population is 21%.

Several of the nation’s largest cities have a much greater concentration of tracts with mail-in rates of 50% or less. In Newark (NJ) and New Orleans, more than half of those cities’ tracts are in this low-participation range. In Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City, between 20 and 31% of the tracts have low mail-in rates.

  • A city-by-city list is included in the detailed findings below, which displays these statistics as well as the median HTC scores for low- and high-participation tracts.
  • You can download a spreadsheet [XLS] providing the average tract-level race and ethnicity characteristics in these cities for both types of tracts.

4. High participation tracts in major cities

In the nation’s largest cities, “high achieving” tracts tend to have higher hard-to-count (HTC) scores. On April 20, the 2,338 tracts in these cities with 2010 participation rates at least 5 percentage points higher than 2000 had a median HTC score of 69, compared with the other tracts in these cities that had a median HTC score of 51.

  • This difference is similar to last week (Week 3), when the high achieving tracts had a median HTC score of 74 compared with other tracts with a median HTC score of 53. This indicates that tracts that have substantially improved on their 2000 performance continue to be in neighborhoods generally considered hard to count.
  • According to the Census Bureau’s HTC index, tracts with scores of 60 or higher are considered hard to count, and tracts with HTC scores of 76 or more are considered “very hard-to-count.”

Our detailed analysis (see link below) provides a city-by-city comparison of HTC scores for these high achieving tracts and each city’s remaining tracts.

Detailed Week 4 analysis [PDF].


For more information, contact:

Center for Urban Research

at the Graduate Center, City University of New York

All work and materials are supported by a grant from the Hagedorn Foundation

and coordinated by the Funders Census Initiative © 2010.