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Census 2020: Potential Impact of Rushing the Count

Low self-response rates in 2020 in many places will require a greater share of door-knocking followup than in 2010, highlighting disparate consequences if NRFU is rushed

Prepared July 31, 2020; updated Aug. 4, 2020

The self-response operation of the 2020 Census, extended due to disruptions from COVID-19, is coming to a close. Door-knocking to count non-responding households (the "nonresponse followup" or NRFU operation) is taking place now in many areas of the country and is scheduled to expand nationwide on August 11. NRFU is especially important to ensure a fair & accurate count for communities facing historic undercounts such as people of color, children under age 5, people in poverty, renters, and others.

The Census Bureau decided to shift the timing of the door-knocking effort due to COVID-19, but maintained they would need 10 weeks of NRFU to ensure a complete 2020 count. This week news surfaced that the administration plans to require the Bureau to hasten the completion of NRFU, ending the door-knocking effort in September rather than by October 31. This will shorten the effort by four weeks. [The Census Bureau confirmed the shortened schedule in an August 3 statement.]

The maps below prepared by the Center for Urban Research show the counties and congressional districts where current self-response rates (as of July 29, 2020) are well-behind the final rates from 2010 (shaded in tan-to-red on the maps). This means that a greater share of homes in these areas will need to be visited by census takers in 2020 compared with 2010. If NRFU is rushed, these areas are at greater risk of not being fairly and accurately counted.

NEW / August 4

On Aug. 4 we added this information to our online Hard to County/Response Rate map. The HTC map now includes a Compare feature to view the mapped patterns for states, counties, and tracts that are behind or ahead of their 2010 rates. These links illustrate the updates:

In the maps at these links and in the maps displayed below, areas in green have surpassed their 2010 rates. But it's important to remember that even in these areas the current response rates may still be low, requiring extensive door-knocking follow-up. For example, in Boone County, West Virginia, the 2010 rate was only 43.7%, and now the county has a rate of 50%. In fact, of the 400 or so counties that have met their 2010 rates, just over 50 of these still have response rates of 50% or less.

MAP 1: Census Self-Response Rates by County, 2020 vs 2010
(Click to view a PDF version)

MAP 2: Census Self-Response Rates by Congressional District, 2020 vs 2010
(Click to view a PDF version)

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 Education Fund.