Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Week 7
Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Week 7)
Prepared May 10, 2020
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Links to analyses from prior weeks:
WEEK 7 (May 1 through May 7)
National Response Rate Trends
The nationwide 2020 Census self-response rate as of Thursday, May 7 was 57.7%. The previous Friday (May 1) the Census Bureau reported a 1 percentage point increase from the day before (April 30). Since then the U.S. rate has increased more modestly. If the average daily increases for the past week continue, the U.S. will reach its 2010 self-response rate of 66.5% by June 6 (three days earlier than our previous projected milestone last week). The response rate trend is shown in the chart in Figure 1 below.
FIGURE 1 (Click to view larger image)
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. Note that the Census Bureau did not publish daily response rates from 2010 at the state level.
Uncharted self-response rate territory
Just as in the 2010 Census, April 30 would have been the end of the 2020 self-response operation. At this point in May 2010, the door-knocking phase was about to begin; similarly, under the original 2020 Census plan, follow-up visits to unresponsive households would have started on May 13. Instead, the COVID-19 crisis prompted the Census Bureau to delay the Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) operation until mid-August and extend the option for householders to submit their census responses on their own until October 31, 2020.
At this point and going forward, instead of looking back to 2010 for daily comparisons, we can look ahead to the now-extended response timeframe for 2020. The new timeframe provides an unprecedented opportunity to substantially boost self-response rates and therefore substantially reduce the universe of households that will need to be counted in-person. It also presents an important opportunity to change the historic pattern of geographic and demographic characteristics of the nonresponse follow-up (NRFU) universe.
State-by-state response rates
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 May 7 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 May 7 (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 5/7. Click to view larger image.
Key areas of concern analyzed for Week 7
In addition to these overall response rate trends, we focus our Week 7 analysis on the following issues:
- More evidence of response rate boosts from 4th mailing/related outreach
- Demographics of Internet Choice vs Internet First census tracts
- Historically undercounted groups
- Week 7 focus: people of color by nativity (foreign-born or native-born)
- Update/Leave operations restarting in some states
- MORE EVIDENCE OF RESPONSE RATE BOOSTS FROM 4TH MAILING/RELATED OUTREACH
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 May 7, 47.2% of responses were submitted via the internet, while only 10.5% of responses were submitted by mail or phone. The mail response rate, however, increased 2 percentage points from the week before, from 8.5% to 10.5%, while the internet response increased only 1 percentage point.
Beginning on April 8, the Census Bureau mailed paper questionnaires and reminder letters to non-responding households in mail-out areas. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Census Bureau 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 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.
On a local level, as we discussed in our Week 6 report, the increases from mail response during the targeted 4th mailing period have been especially noticeable in areas where households did not receive paper questionnaires in the initial mailing in March. These areas received an Internet First census packet, which provided a letter of invitation to respond online, as well as toll-free phone numbers to respond by phone.
Figure 4 presents an example of how responses by mail are increasing substantially in many communities where households did not initially receive a paper questionnaire but have since obtained a paper questionnaire via the 4th mailing. The image shows a screenshot from the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map for census tract 105.03 in Jasper County, Georgia. Each of this tract’s housing units received an Internet First mailing.
The trendline displays the daily response rate for this tract. On April 13, the tract’s overall response rate was 42.6%. Most of those responses (41.8%) were from the online portal and only 0.8% were via mail/phone.
By May 7, after the Census Bureau had mailed paper questionnaires to non-responding households in this tract, the internet response for this tract had increased several percentage points to 47.2%, but the mail/phone response increased from 0.8% to 11%.
FIGURE 4 (click to view this tract on the map)
By comparison, almost all homes in a tract in nearby Jefferson County, Georgia (tract 9603) received an Internet Choice mailing that included the paper questionnaire. Figure 5 below shows the 2020 response rate trendline from the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map for census tract 9603.
The trendline shows that most households in this tract that have responded have done so by mail or by phone. Between April 13 and May 7, however, the mail response rate in this tract changed only slightly, increasing by just over 2 percentage points, even though the non-responding households in this tract also received another paper form via the Census Bureau’s 4th mailing.
FIGURE 5 (click to view this tract on the map)
These two tracts are typical of many others across the country.
- DEMOGRAPHICS OF INTERNET CHOICE vs INTERNET FIRST CENSUS TRACTS
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 tended to be high, while response rates in communities that received Internet Choice mailings are lagging.
On May 7, the average response rate was 62.6% across all tracts nationwide where homes had received Internet First packets. This rate was almost 5 points above the May 7 U.S. rate of 57.7%. A week earlier (on April 30) the average “Internet First” rate was 4 points above the U.S. rate at the time.
The average response rate on May 7 across all tracts nationwide where homes had received Internet Choice packets was only 48.5%. This was 9 points below the May 7 U.S. rate. A week earlier (on April 30) the average “Internet Choice” response rate was 8 points below the U.S. rate, and the prior week it was 6 points below.
The gap between the average response rate for Internet First and Internet Choice tracts also had grown to almost 14 points. A week earlier, the gap was 13 points, and the week prior it 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. A phased restart of this operation began on May 6.)
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 for tracts based on which racial group or population of Hispanic origin was the predominant population.
In tracts across all racial groups (except for the small number of predominantly Native Hawaiian tracts) and in tracts of predominantly Hispanic origin, the average response rates for Internet Choice tracts were lower than for Internet First tracts. The gap is more pronounced for all groups between Internet First tracts that received English-only mailings and Internet Choice tracts with bilingual mailings.
TABLE 1 (Click to view larger image).
NB: Most of the 225 census tracts nationwide where the plurality population is American Indian/Alaska Native (single race, non-Hispanic) are in areas covered by Update/Leave and are omitted from this table.
- HISTORICALLY UNDERCOUNTED GROUPS
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 and do not tell us anything about the types of people or households that have responded so far to the 2020 Census.
For Week 7, 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.
Response rates across tracts by race/Hispanic origin and city size
We examine the latest response rates for tracts based on plurality population for each racial group and Hispanic origin. We cross-tabulate 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.
The response rate patterns in Table 2 are similar to the patterns we have reported for previous weeks. In particular, tracts whose populations are predominantly Black or Hispanic tend to have the lowest response rates. Tracts whose populations are predominantly Asian also tend to have low rates in the largest cities (with populations of 1 million or more), but higher in smaller cities or incorporated places. Overall, response rates in the largest cities (with populations of 1 million or more) tend to be lowest for all groups.
(In our next analysis for response rates through May 21, we will examine the change in response rates between May 7 and May 21 for these categories.)
TABLE 2: Response rates as of May 7 for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (click to view larger image).
NB: Cities in Hawaii are considered unincorporated places and operate under a City/County government structure, so they are not included as “Cities” in this analysis.
Response rates across tracts by race/ethnicity and nativity
We also examine the relationship between the latest response rates and share of population that is foreign-born compared with native born.
The Census Bureau cross-tabulates “nativity” (whether someone is born a U.S. citizen or not) with selected racial groups — people reporting Black alone (regardless of Hispanic origin), Asian alone (regardless of Hispanic origin), White non-Hispanic alone — and population of Hispanic origin.
Nationwide at the census tract level, for tracts with 100 householders or more and fewer than 10% of housing units covered by the Census Bureau’s Update/Leave operation, we found that:
- Response rates on May 7 tended to be lower in tracts with a greater share of Hispanic population, but that negative relationship was somewhat stronger for the foreign-born Hispanic population (the correlation statistic for native-born Hispanic population is -.294, while the statistic for foreign-born Hispanic population is -.312).
- We found a similar relationship between response rates and foreign-born Black population: rates tend to be lower as the share of Black population increases, and the negative relationship was strongest for foreign-born Black population.
- For the non-Hispanic White population, higher response rates are strongly correlated with higher shares of native-born non-Hispanic Whites (correlation statistic = .466).
- Response rates tend to increase as the share of Asian population increases, and there was only a slight correlation with either native-born or foreign-born Asian population.
However, these differences are starker when response rates across cities of different sizes, and for tracts outside cities, are examined.
Table 3 below compares the average tract-level response rates from May 7 by city size for tracts with a plurality of Hispanic population and where the foreign-born Hispanic population is either larger or smaller than the native-born Hispanic population.
Overall, the average response rate for tracts with a plurality of people who are foreign-born Hispanic is lower (48%) than tracts with a plurality of people who are native-born Hispanic (50%). In large cities with populations of 1 million or more, average response rates are lowest for both types of tracts, but are especially low (41.8%) for tracts with a plurality of people who are foreign-born Hispanic.
For tracts outside cities or incorporated places, however, tracts with a plurality of people who are foreign-born Hispanic are higher (54.5%) than tracts with a plurality of people who are native-born Hispanic (50.8%).
TABLE 3 (Click to view larger image).
Table 4 below compares the average tract-level response rates from May 7 by city size for tracts where the population is predominantly non-Hispanic Black, and where the foreign-born Black population is either larger or smaller than the native-born Black population.
There are relatively few tracts (only 182 nationwide) whose population is predominantly foreign-born Black (non-Hispanic). Overall, the average response rate is lower in these few tracts that are predominantly foreign-born Black (44.6%) than for tracts in which the population is predominantly native-born Black (47.6%).
Half of these tracts (99) are in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens in New York City. In these predominantly foreign-born Black tracts in New York City, the average response rate is very low: 39.7%.
TABLE 4 (Click to view larger image).
Table 5 below compares the average tract-level response rates from May 7 by city size for tracts where the population is predominantly non-Hispanic Asian, and where the foreign-born Asian population is either larger or smaller than the native-born Asian population.
Nationwide, there are relatively few tracts (1,659) whose population is predominantly Asian, which is likely a function of the Asian population being more mixed with other race groups by tract than the Black, Hispanic, or White populations. The average response rate for these tracts are relatively high except for those tracts in the largest cities (with 1 million or more people), where the average tract response rate is 49.6%.
Of these predominantly Asian tracts, almost all are plurality foreign-born Asian. There are only 238 nationwide whose population is predominantly native-born Asian (non-Hispanic). Most of these tracts (201) are outside cities or incorporated places, and the average response rate in these tracts is slightly higher (64.7%) than the tracts outside cities that are predominantly foreign-born Asian.
TABLE 5 (Click to view larger image).
Table 6 below compares the average tract-level response rates from May 7 by city size for tracts where the population is predominantly non-Hispanic White, and where the foreign-born White non-Hispanic population is either larger or smaller than the native-born White non-Hispanic population.
Nationwide, there are relatively few tracts (only 126) whose population is predominantly foreign-born White (non-Hispanic). Overall in these tracts, the average response rate is lower (49%) than where the White non-Hispanic is predominantly native-born (62.7%).
Half of these tracts (66) are in New York City, in south Brooklyn and in central Queens. In these New York City tracts, the average response rate is low: 45.6%.
TABLE 6 (Click to view larger image).
For our analysis of the response rates during Weeks 8 and 9, we plan to further examine the relationship across tracts by country of origin of the foreign-born population, as well as for detailed ethnic groups.
- UPDATE/LEAVE RESTARTING IN SOME STATES
The Census Bureau has announced that is resuming Update/Leave operations in selected Area Census Offices in selected states across the country. The map below shows the areas where Update/Leave will resume as of May 6 and separately as of May 13. The Bureau plans to announce additional areas where Update/Leave will begin as long as health and safety concerns can be met, and in coordination with state officials.
FIGURE 6 (Click to view larger image).
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.