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Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Weeks 8 and 9

Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Weeks 8 and 9)

Prepared May 25, 2020


HTC 2020 map news

Links to analyses from prior weeks:


WEEKS 8 and 9 (May 8 - May 21)

Summary materials:

National Response Rate Trends

The nationwide 2020 Census self-response rate as of Thursday, May 21 was 59.8%. The rate on May 21 was only 2.1 percentage points above the rate two weeks ago on May 7. Daily response rate increases have slowed; before May 7, the U.S. rate had been increasing an average of two points per week. If rate increases continue at this slower pace, the U.S. will not reach its final 2010 self-response rate of 66.5% until July (roughly a month later than when we last examined the national rates as of May 7).

Nonetheless, the extended self-response timeframe provides ample opportunity to continue to boost the rates and increase the pace of response rate increases.

The response rate trend is shown in the chart in Figure 1 below.

FIGURE 1 (Click to view larger image)

Uncharted self-response rate territory offers an unprecedented opportunity to boost rates

Just as in the 2010 Census, April 30 would have been the end of the 2020 self-response operation, although the option to self-respond remains available through the Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) door-knocking period. At this point in May 2010, the door-knocking phase had already begun; 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 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 boost self-response rates and therefore reduce the universe of households that will need to be counted in-person — perhaps substantially. It also presents an important opportunity to change the historic pattern of geographic and demographic characteristics of the NRFU universe, by increasing self-response among historically undercounted households and population groups.

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) through May 21.

Note the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the charts in Figures 2 and 3. Now that the Update/Leave operation is resuming in Puerto Rico, we will be closely tracking self-response rate updates in the Commonwealth. (The entire Commonwealth is covered by the Update/Leave operation.)

FIGURE 2 States ranked by May 21 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 21 (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 5/21. Click to view larger image.

Despite the slowing rate of increases at the national level, there are several important examples of response rates improving at the local level.

Increases in response rates in several of the nation’s largest cities in recent weeks have surpassed the increases at the national level. Figure 4 below shows the weekly response rate increases (in percentage points) for the U.S. (the black bars) compared with cities with populations of 1 million or more (bars of different color).

In the first week, the U.S. overall had a larger response rate than each of these cities, and New York City (the largest city) had the lowest response rate. In weeks 2 through 5, the response rate increases on a weekly basis in most of these cities surpassed the U.S. weekly increases. In weeks 6 through 8, that pattern reversed, with the U.S. weekly rate increase greater than in most large cities. But in weeks 8 and 9, the weekly increases in several cities – notably New York – began to outpace the U.S. weekly increase. Other cities such as San Antonio, TX, and Philadelphia, PA, also outpaced the U.S. weekly increase.

For more details about New York City’s recent increases, see Weekly Report on 2020 Census Self-Response (Rates Issued on May 14) by the New York City Department of City Planning’s Population Division.

FIGURE 4 (click to view larger image)

Also noteworthy: numerous communities across the country have exceeded their 2010 “goalpost” final response rates. This reinforces the message that the extended timeframe for 2020 Census self-response provides an opportunity for local communities and even regions and states to surpass their 2010 levels, despite the challenges to census outreach presented by the COVID-19 crisis. Get Out the Count organizers can view the final 2010 rates not as a ceiling, but as a floor from which their self-response rates can continue to rise.

Based on the response rates published on May 21, the following areas have exceeded their 2010 rates:

Michigan’s 9th congressional district (spanning Macomb and Oakland counties, just north of Detroit)

136 counties

  • 31 in Kentucky (such as Jessamine)
  • 25 in Virginia (such as Frederick)
  • 3 in West Virginia; 1 in New Mexico

Just over 2,300 cities/incorporated places

  • Over 100 each in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, N. Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, & Wisconsin

Approximately 9,300 census tracts

37 tribal areas

  • Most of these 37 areas are small and are not part of the Update/Leave operation.
  • Most tribal lands still have low response rates due, in significant part, to the suspension of the Update/Leave operation, meaning that most households in these areas have not received their census packets yet.

Key areas of concern analyzed for Weeks 8 and 9

In addition to these overall response rate trends, we focus our analysis for Weeks 8 and 9 on the following issues:

  1. The latest response rates in states where Update/Leave operations have resumed
  2. Census tracts with the lowest response rates nationwide, compared to areas with the highest rates
  3. Exploration of response rates in tracts with a plurality of foreign-born population from selected countries

  1. LATEST RESPONSE RATES IN STATES WHERE UPDATE/LEAVE OPERATIONS HAVE RESUMED

On May 6, the Census Bureau began a phased restart of the Update/Leave operation, which involves hand-delivering census packets to households in some rural and remote areas, all of Puerto Rico, and on many Tribal lands. According to the Census Bureau, the phased restart will proceed as state, local, and Tribal health conditions and restrictions permit.

Operations were restarted on May 6 across 13 states. Nine more states were added starting May 13, and on May 21 the bureau announced the resumption of operations in an additional 12 states for the following week. The Update/Leave operation covers 5 million housing units stateside in 2020, plus approximately 1.7 million units in Puerto Rico; however, most of these homes (about 95%) did not receive their packets before the bureau suspended the effort soon after it began in mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The map in Figure 5 below highlights these states and the Area Census Offices (ACOs) within them that will oversee the hand-delivery of census packets. The bureau is announcing weekly where operations will resume the following Wednesday; visit the Census Bureau’s website each Friday afternoon for updates.

Note that in some states, the Update/Leave operation is resuming only in certain Area Census Offices. Also, the ACOs shown in grey in Figure 5 are where hiring is resuming for future census field operations, but these ACOs do not include any housing units covered by Update/Leave. The CUNY HTC/Response Rate map includes a search feature that makes it easy to zoom to any Area Census Office on the map, view the status of the resumption of field operations, and visualize areas within the ACO where Update/Leave operations will restart.

FIGURE 5 (click to view larger image)

Now that Update/Leave operations have resumed across 22 states starting either May 6 or May 13, we have examined response rates in tracts in these states where most housing units are covered by Update/Leave, compared with rates in tracts where units received their census packets by mail. Our findings are discussed below.

States in “Week 1” group (where U/L operations resumed 5/6/20)

Tracts in these 13 states with a majority of housing units that received census packets by mail had greater overall response rate increases than Update/Leave tracts:

  • Mail-out tracts in most states had greater 2-week increases than the U.S. 2-week increase from May 7 to May 21
  • Tracts in some states had greater increases for internet response; others had greater increases for mail response

Majority U/L tracts tended to have greater increases for internet response than mail response.

Tables 1 and 2 below show these patterns.

TABLE 1 (click to view larger table)

TABLE 2 (click to view larger table)

States in “Week 2” group (where U/L operations resumed 5/13/20)

Consistent with the general slower pace of response rate increases last week, the overall changes in these nine states are relatively small. Mail-out tracts in these states had slightly larger increases than majority U/L tracts.

In majority U/L tracts, the internet mode of response tends to have greater increases than mail/phone.

In majority Mail-out tracts, the increases are about the same for each mode.

Tables 3 and 4 below show these patterns.

TABLE 3 (click to view larger table)

TABLE 4 (click to view larger table)

In evaluating the pace of self-response in these areas, keep in mind that the length of time it takes to hand-deliver census packets to all households within the Update/Leave operation in each ACO jurisdiction depends on workload, geographic dispersion of housing units, and census field worker productivity. Once packets have been left at the front door, residents might not be aware that the materials are there immediately, especially because some people are staying indoors more than usual due to the pandemic.

In addition, there have been reports that some rural Post Offices have closed temporarily; residents in Update/Leave areas might not have a way to mail back a paper questionnaire easily or quickly. Finally, as of this analysis, the Census Bureau had not yet started new, targeted advertising in Update/Leave areas, which would help remind residents to look for census packets at their front doors. All of these factors could have affected the pace of self-response increases in census tracts where all or some households are covered by the Update/Leave operation.

  1. TRACTS WITH THE LOWEST AND HIGHEST RESPONSE RATES: WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THEIR POPULATIONS?

This analysis expands on our research from Week 4 and Week 5, focusing on census tracts in the “bottom 20%” of response rates nationwide, based on the latest 2020 Census rates. This enables us to understand the geographic patterns and concentrations of tracts that will eventually require the greatest share of the door-knocking (Nonresponse Follow-up, or NRFU) effort.

We use the latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) (2014-2018 “5-year estimates”) to determine the characteristics of the overall population in these “bottom 20%” census tracts. This shows not only if historically undercounted or historically low self-response population groups are in these tracts, but if the tracts that eventually will require the greatest in-person enumeration effort are home to disproportionately high numbers of these groups.

Of course, this approach does not identify who is being counted as the self-response operation continues. It only identifies the demographic characteristics of census tracts overall. But it provides an indication of which population groups (and which communities) are at risk of being undercounted, and whether that risk is increasing or decreasing for historically undercounted groups if they continue to represent a large share of the population in the bottom 20% of tracts.

On May 21, when the Census Bureau began reporting response rates, tracts with response rates in the lowest fifth had a response rate of less than 50.4%. Based on ACS estimates for the 2014-2018 period, there are approximately 50 million people in these tracts, approximately 22.6 million total housing units, and approximately 18.2 million occupied housing units (i.e. households).

Some population characteristics of these tracts are as follows:

  • Population in poverty
    • 12.5 million people (26% of population in bottom 20% of tracts)
  • Language challenges
    • 1.7 million Limited English Proficiency households (9.2%)
  • Non-Hispanic White population
    • 18.7 million (37.1%)
  • Non-Hispanic Black population
    • 12.7 million (25.1%)
  • Non-Hispanic Asian population
    • 2.3 million (4.5%)
  • Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native population
    • 363,000 (0.7%)
  • Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population
    • 75,000 (0.1%)
  • Hispanic population
    • 15.1 million (30%)
  • Households with no internet
    • 4.4 million (24.1%)
  • Foreign-born population
    • 9.9 million (19.6%)
  • People age 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or greater
    • 7 million (21.8% of population age 25+ in the bottom 20% of tracts)
  • People age 25+ with a high school degree or less
    • 16.5 million (51.8% of population age 25+ in the bottom 20% of tracts)

(Note that this analysis omits tracts with 10% or more units in Update/Leave or fewer than 100 residents. This constraint affects the inclusion of tracts on many American Indian reservations, in particular, as the hand-delivery of census packets has not resumed on many Tribal lands due to COVID-19 restrictions.)

In order to view where these tracts are concentrated, or not, the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map includes the ability to display the bottom 20% of tracts across the country. As an example, Figure 6 below highlights the tracts with response rates in the bottom 20% in Detroit, MI. In this particular city, these low-response-rate tracts are especially concentrated.

FIGURE 6 (click to view on the online map)

In contrast to the population in the bottom 20% of census tracts on May 21, the population in the “top 20%” of tracts (those with the highest response rates) had a smaller share of historically undercounted or historically low self-response population groups. Tracts in the top 20% had response rates of 73.3% or more. Based on the 2014-18 ACS estimates, these tracts represent 67 million people (33% more than the bottom 20%), 26 million housing units, and 24.8 million households.

The same population groups in the top 20% of census tracts for May 21 are as follows:

  • Poverty
    • 3.8 million people (8.8 million fewer than bottom 20% of tracts)
  • Language challenges
    • 468K Limited English Proficiency households (72% fewer than the bottom 20%)
  • Non-Hispanic White population
    • 52.5 million (more than 2.8x as many as in bottom 20%)
  • Non-Hispanic Black population
    • 2.9 million (77% fewer)
  • Non-Hispanic Asian population
    • 4.6 million (twice as many)
  • Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native population
    • 165,000 (half as many)
  • Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population
    • 69,500 (roughly the same)
  • Hispanic population
    • 5.1 million (67% fewer)
  • Households with no internet
    • 2.1 million (half as many)
  • Foreign-born population
    • 6.8 million (31% fewer)
  • People age 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or greater
    • 21.2 million (3x as many)
  • People age 25+ with a high school degree or less
    • 12.3 million (25% fewer)
  1. HISTORICALLY UNDERCOUNTED GROUPS

As in previous weeks, we report on response rates below for communities whose populations have substantial concentrations of selected 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.

Response rates across tracts for foreign-born population from selected countries

For Weeks 8 and 9, we focus our analysis on the foreign-born population by place of birth.

In particular, we examine response rates for tracts with a plurality of foreign-born population from the following countries (selected based on those that are the largest “source countries” for each community of color):

  • Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico
  • Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria
  • China, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam

Response rates for tracts whose foreign-born populations are predominantly from Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico

Table 5 summarizes the average tract-level response rates according to size of city in which each tract is located. The table shows that:

  • Rates in tracts in largest cities tend to be lowest (of all place sizes shown)
  • Rates across cities of all sizes for tracts with foreign-born pluralities of people from the Dominican Republic are lower than the U.S. rate
  • Higher rates outside cities/incorporated places, and even in small cities, for tracts with foreign-born plurality of people from Cuba, El Salvador, and Mexico

TABLE 5 (click to view larger table)

Response rates for tracts whose foreign-born populations are predominantly from Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria

Table 6 summarizes the average tract-level response rates according to size of city in which each tract is located. The table shows that:

  • Rates in tracts in largest cities tend to be lowest (of all place sizes shown)
  • Higher rates outside cities/incorporated places, and even in small/medium cities, for tracts with foreign-born plurality of people from Ethiopia and Nigeria
  • Rates across cities of all sizes for tracts with foreign-born pluralities of people from Jamaica and Haiti are lower than the U.S. rate

TABLE 6 (click to view larger table)

Response rates for tracts whose foreign-born populations are predominantly from China, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam

Table 7 summarizes the average tract-level response rates according to size of city in which each tract is located. The table shows that:

  • Rates in the largest cities tend to be lowest for tracts with foreign-born pluralities of people from China and Korea (but not the Philippines or Vietnam)
  • Rates across cities of all sizes for tracts with foreign-born pluralities of people from Vietnam or the Philippines are higher than the U.S. rate
  • Higher rates outside cities/incorporated places, and even in small/medium cities, for tracts with foreign-born plurality of people from all 4 countries

TABLE 7 (click to view larger table)


For more information, contact:

Center for Urban Research

at the Graduate Center, City University of New York

cunymapping@gc.cuny.edu

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.