Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Week 6
Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Week 6)
Prepared May 1, 2020
HTC 2020 map news
Links to analyses from prior weeks:
WEEK 6 (April 24 through April 30)
National Response Rate Trends
The nationwide 2020 Census self-response rate as of Thursday, April 30, was 54.6%. The U.S. rate increased at a faster pace in Week 6 than the week before, with an average daily increase of 0.3 points this week. This was driven by two days (April 24 and April 29) that each had a 0.6 percentage point increase over the day before.
The response rate trend is shown in the chart in Figure 1 below. The chart is annotated to show that as of April 8, the Census Bureau has been mailing paper questionnaires and reminder letters to non-responding households in mail-out areas. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Census Bureau has extended the timeframe of these mailings: paper questionnaires (and related reminder letters) were mailed through April 30, and reminder postcards are being mailed from April 27 to May 9. In addition, in April, the Bureau sent previously-planned reminder letters bearing the unique ID numbers and telephone assistance information to “mailable addresses” in Update/Leave areas, despite most households not yet receiving their initial census packets due to COVID-19 related suspension of field operations.
April 30 would have been the end of the 2020 self-response operation, just like that date marked the end of the 2010 self-response operation. Figure 1 below displays the daily self-response rates in 2010 at the national level compared with the national and state-by-state rates so far in 2020.
The long red line across the top of the chart shows the day-to-day response rates in 2010. Starting on May 1 after the self-response operation had ended, the 2010 trendline is generally flat, only increasing by 1.2 percentage points between May 1 and June 22 when the final 2010 self-response rate of 66.5% was achieved.
However, the individual lines in Figure 1 below representing state-by-state daily response rates in 2020 and the shorter red line noted with the arrow representing the 2020 U.S. daily rate, are all on an upward slope. Now that the 2020 self-response operation has been extended well beyond April 30, if the rates continue at their current pace, the nation will meet and then exceed its final 2010 self-response rate by June 9, two days earlier than we expected based on the prior week’s pace.
Note that the Census Bureau did not publish daily response rates from 2010 at the state level.
FIGURE 1 (Click to view larger image)
NB: Keep in mind the differences in census operations between 2010 and now when comparing response rate trends. Census operations were different in 2010, which may impact the difference in the national trend. For example, the 2010 Census was largely paper-based (the Bureau didn’t advertise the online option, which was used minimally); there were only two initial mailings (rather than staggered waves of initial mailings and multiple follow up mailings in 2020); there was a targeted replacement mailing in 2010; and of course, the 2010 Census did not face a pandemic that delayed key census operations and upended Get Out the Count (GOTC) campaigns that were based significantly on in-person outreach. Nonetheless, stakeholders will measure the success of the 2020 self-response operation by whether the nation, states, and localities meet and surpass their 2010 rates. Our map allows you to compare not only the 2020 rates with final 2010 “goalpost” rates, but also assess how your area is doing compared with nearby communities or similar areas across the state, and for larger regions such as counties, the state, and nation as a whole.
The following graphs show the latest 2020 response rates by state and the percentage point change by state from March 20 (when the Census Bureau first reported response rates) until now.
FIGURE 2 States ranked by April 30 census response rate (the final 2010 U.S. rate and the current U.S. 2020 rate are included for comparison). Click to view larger image.
FIGURE 3 States ordered left-to-right by lowest response rate to highest on April 30 (including the current national rate and final 2010 response rate for comparison). Brown bars represent the beginning response rate (March 20); the blue bars represent the increase between 3/20 and 4/30. Click to view larger image.
Key areas of concern analyzed for Week 6
In addition to the nationwide response rate trends, we focus our Week 6 analysis on the following issues:
- Internet Choice, Internet First
- 4th mailing with paper questionnaire boosting mail response
- Result is most noticeable in Internet First areas
- Response rates in Internet Choice areas, on average, still lagging behind Internet First
- Demographic trends
- Rates in areas with concentrations of historically undercounted groups
- Some areas gained, others still face challenges
- CHANGES IN INTERNET CHOICE AND INTERNET FIRST RESPONSE RATES
In the first (initial) mailing of census materials in mid-March, about 80% of homes in the mail-out universe (95% of all residential addresses in the U.S.) received Internet First packets, which included a letter of invitation to respond on-line and a language assistance sheet with toll-free numbers to respond by phone. The remaining 20% of homes in the mail-out universe received Internet Choice packets, which included the same materials plus a paper questionnaire.
Most 2020 census responses continue to be submitted via the online portal. According to the response rate data published on April 30, 46.1% of responses the day before were submitted via the internet, while only 8.5% of responses were submitted by mail or phone, for an overall response rate reported for April 30 of 54.6%.
But on a daily basis, combined responses by mail and phone have been increasing. (The Census Bureau does not separately report mail response and phone response. However, the Bureau noted recently that only 0.6% of responses have been submitted by phone.)
The blue line in the chart in Figure 4 below shows the daily change in response rates from internet responses, and the orange line represents daily change from mail/phone responses. From March 21 through April 11, the daily change from internet responses was greater than the daily change from mail/phone. (On April 2, reflecting the responses from "Census Day" on April 1, the daily increase from internet responses was much greater: a 2.7 percentage point increase from the internet, compared with only 0.2 percentage point increase from mail/phone.)
On April 12 and again on April 26, 27, and 29, the increase from mail response equaled the increase from internet response. And on April 19, April 22, and April 24 the increase in mail response surpassed the increase from internet response. These increases from mail (and to a much smaller extent, phone) response coincide with the Census Bureau mailing paper questionnaires to non-responding households (the 4th mailing, which arrived in mailboxes from April 8 – April 30).
FIGURE 4 (click to view larger image)
Increases in mail response most noticeable in Internet First areas
On a local level, the increases from mail response have been especially noticeable in areas where households did not receive paper questionnaires from the Census Bureau in the initial mailing from the Bureau in March. These areas received an “Internet First” mailing, which provided a letter of invitation to respond online, as well as toll-free phone numbers to respond by phone.
Figure 5 presents an example of how responses by mail are increasing substantially in many communities where households did not initially receive a paper questionnaire from the Census Bureau. The image shows a screenshot from the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map for census tract 9634 in Seneca County, Ohio. Each of this tract’s housing units received an Internet First mailing.
The trendline from the map shown in the screenshot below displays the daily response rate for this tract. On April 17, the tract’s overall response rate was 56%. Most of those responses (54.8%) were from the online portal and only 1.2% were via mail/phone.
By April 30, after the Census Bureau had mailed paper questionnaires to non-responding households in this tract, the internet response for this tract had only increased slightly (from 54.8% to 56.5%) while the mail/phone response increased from 1.2% to 12.8%.
FIGURE 5 (click to view this tract on the map)
By comparison, the homes in another tract in Seneca County, OH (tract 9630) each received an Internet Choice mailing that included the paper questionnaire. Figure 6 below shows the 2020 response rate trendline from the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map for census tract 9630.
The trendline shows that most households in this tract that have responded have done so by mail or by phone. Between April 17 and April 30, however, the response rate in this tract changed only slightly, increasing by 1.3 points (from 56.2% to 57.5%). Although non-responding households in this tract have received a second paper questionnaire from the Census Bureau in the 4th targeted mailing, this apparently has not prompted these households to mail back the form.
FIGURE 6 (click to view this tract on the map)
The examples in Figures 5 and 6 above are typical of many tracts that are either “Internet First” or “Internet Choice” across the country.
Visualizing the increase in mailed responses from Internet First areas by county
This increase in mailed responses from Internet First areas is also noticeable at the county level.
Figures 7 and 8 below highlight counties in two states, Ohio and Kansas, as examples of this trend. In these two states, 76% of homes received Internet First packets in mid-March. The changes shown below are typical of states where most housing units received Internet First mailings.
Figure 7 shows the daily response trends for mail/phone only in Ohio counties where the share of homes that received the Internet First mailing exceeds the share that received the Internet Choice mailing (in other words, most homes in these counties did not receive a paper questionnaire in the initial mailing from the Census Bureau). This analysis also omits counties with an above-average share of homes that are covered by the Bureau’s Update/Leave operation.
Figure 7 shows that, beginning on or soon after April 17, after the Census Bureau had mailed paper questionnaires to non-responding households, the county-level rates for mail/phone response began to increase noticeably across all these counties.
FIGURE 7 (click to view a larger image)
Figure 8 shows the same types of counties in Kansas and reveals a similar pattern, although in Kansas, the mail/phone response rate increases tended to begin earlier, on or soon after April 11.
FIGURE 8 (click to view a larger image)
Internet Choice response rates still lagging behind Internet First
The increases in mail/phone responses discussed above tend to be most noticeable in areas that received Internet First mailings in March. But response rates in communities that received Internet First mailings already tend to be high, while response rates in communities that received Internet Choice mailings are lagging.
On April 30, the average response rate was 59.1% across all tracts nationwide where homes had received Internet First packets. This rate was more than 4 points above the April 30 U.S. rate of 54.6%. A week earlier (on April 23) the average “Internet First” rate was also 4 points above the U.S. rate at the time.
The average response rate on April 30 across all tracts nationwide where homes had received Internet Choice packets was only 46.3%. This was 8 points below the April 30 U.S. rate. A week earlier (on April 23) the average “Internet Choice” response rate was 6 points below the U.S. rate.
The gap between the average response rate for Internet First and Internet Choice tracts also had grown to almost 13 points. A week earlier, the gap was 10 points.
(Note that this comparison omits tracts with 10% or more housing units covered by the Bureau’s Update/Leave operation, where census field staff hand-deliver Internet Choice packets to households and update the master address list as they go. The Update/Leave operation was suspended by March 20 due to COVID-19 safety concerns and state or local restrictions.)
Table 1 below presents response rates for tracts where homes received Internet Choice packets compared with response rates for tracts where homes received Internet First packets, displayed by city size (and for tracts not in cities). The table also separately presents response rates for tracts where homes received bilingual packets (in Spanish and English) that were either Internet First or Internet Choice.
TABLE 1 (click to view a larger image)
- DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS
We report on response rates below for communities whose populations have substantial concentrations of groups that historically have been undercounted or are at risk of being undercounted in 2020. All population characteristics are based on estimates for the 2014-2018 period from the American Community Survey.
Children under age 5
Children under 5 represent the age group with the greatest net undercount in the decennial census. Although self-response rates do not tell us the extent of possible undercounting of any specific demographic group, nor do they indicate anything on their own regarding census accuracy, examining response rates in communities where children are at greatest risk of being undercounted can help census stakeholders target their outreach strategies and messaging to promote inclusion of young children in household census responses.
We examined response rates by tracts nationwide across 689 counties that were studied by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), to determine tracts at greatest risk of an undercount of young children.
We found that tracts with “Very High Risk” of undercounting young children, according to PRB’s analysis, continue to have an average response rate below the national level, at 48.8% as of April 30.
People with incomes below the poverty line
For this analysis, we focus on what are considered by poverty advocacy groups to be "High poverty" tracts, in which more than 30% of residents for whom the poverty level has been determined have incomes below the poverty line.
The average response rate across all high poverty tracts nationwide as of April 30 is 41.3%, more than 13 points lower than the national average. This gap has widened; as of April 9, the average response rate across high poverty tracts was 12 points lower than the U.S. average.
By contrast, tracts with less than 30% of the population in poverty had an average response rate as of April 30 of 58%, above the national average.
The average response rate across these “low poverty” tracts is increasing almost twice as fast as the high poverty tracts. On April 9, “low poverty” tracts had an average response rate of 47%. This increased 11 percentage points by April 30, while the average rate for high poverty tracts only increased 6.8 percentage points.
People of color
We focus our analysis on people who reported their race during the 2014-2018 American Community Survey as a single race but not of Hispanic origin, and separately for the population that reported Hispanic origin regardless of race.
We examined the latest response rates for tracts based on plurality population for each racial group and Hispanic origin. We cross-tabulated these tracts based on population size of the city in which they are located. The results are shown in Table 2. The analysis omits tracts with fewer than 100 householders, and tracts with 10% or more units covered by the Census Bureau’s Update/Leave operation.
TABLE 2 Response rates as of April 30 for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (click to view a larger image)
Response rates in tracts whose population is predominantly Black (non-Hispanic) or Hispanic are lower, on average, than tracts whose population is predominantly White (non-Hispanic) or Asian (non-Hispanic), and lower than the overall average response rate. This finding holds for census tracts in cities of any size and for tracts outside cities.
Average response rates for tracts whose population is predominantly Asian are higher in small and medium-size cities, and in tracts outside cities, than for tracts whose population is predominantly White. However, tracts that are predominantly Asian, Black, or Hispanic in the nation’s largest cities (with populations of 1 million or more) tend to have the lowest response rates.
When we last examined response rates for tracts nationwide on April 9 based on predominant population by race and Hispanic origin, we used a slightly different way to categorize tract population. At that time, we used American Community Survey estimates for people who reported their race “alone or in combination with other races” and regardless of Hispanic origin. That is a more expansive definition of who would be included in the categories of Black, Asian, or White. But people who are Hispanic can be included in “alone or in combination” categories such as White or Black, so we now analyze the data based on the “alone” race categories to eliminate this overlap.
After re-analyzing response rates from April 9 based on these non-overlapping categories, we calculated how average rates for tracts with a plurality of each group had changed between then and April 30. Table 2 presents the changes.
TABLE 3 Change in rates from April 9 (click to view a larger image)
Average response rates in tracts whose population is predominantly Asian increased the most in tracts outside cities and across tracts in cities smaller than 1 million people. Tracts whose population is predominantly Black had the smallest increases of all the groups in tracts across all city sizes and outside cities. However, tracts with predominantly Black populations had the largest response rate gains in large cities (with more than 1 million people) and in tracts outside cities.
Tracts whose population is predominantly Asian or Hispanic had the smallest gains in large cities of million or more.
We examined response rates by tract compared with education levels for the population age 25 and older. We found:
- in tracts where a plurality of people age 25+ have bachelor’s degrees or higher, the average tract response rate is 62.8% (8 points above the U.S. rate); and
- in tracts where a plurality of people have a high school degree or less, the average tract response rate is 51.5% (3 points below the U.S. rate).
In cities with populations of 1 million or more, rates for both education groups are lower:
- tracts with a plurality of people with bachelor’s degrees or higher have an average rate of 52.6% (almost at the U.S. rate); and
- tracts with a plurality of people with high school degrees or less have an average rate of 42.5% (10 points below the higher-educational attainment tracts and 12 points below the U.S. rate).
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 2020 Census Project
and developed in partnership with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.