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Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Week 1

Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Week 1)

Prepared March 30, 2020


Every Friday from March 20 through the end of April 2020, we are presenting an analysis of 2020 Census self-response rates to the coalition of philanthropic foundations and national and regional census stakeholders that are leading the effort in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau to help ensure a fair and accurate 2020 Census. (This timeline may need to be modified based on the Census Bureau’s operational adjustments due to COVID-19.) Our analyses will help these groups modify their Get Out the Count (GOTC) strategies and tactics as needed, to help boost self-response in areas and for populations that are at greatest risk of being undercounted.

Self-response rates are important. They represent the number of households that fill out the census on their own (on-line, by phone, or using a paper form), as a percent of all housing units.

When households fill out the census questionnaire on their own, they help the Census Bureau save time and money and collect the highest quality population data.

Equally important, when a household self-responds, it avoids a visit from a census enumerator who will try to collect data from the household in person – especially important given the coronavirus outbreak. The effort to count households that do not self-respond is expensive and challenging.

Therefore, if your state or county, city or local community has a low self-response rate, it means:

  • more census enumerators will be knocking on doors to count residents in-person; and
  • it is more likely people in your area may be missed or counted inaccurately.

Information on 2020 Census self-response rates is available online for the nation, states, counties, cities, and local communities via our Hard to Count (HTC 2020) map.

The HTC map displays a bar chart that shows the latest 2020 response rate for your area. It also displays the rates from the end of the 2000 and 2010 self-response operations for historical comparison. The 2020 progress bar fills in daily after the Census Bureau publishes the latest response rates. You can zoom in to see your block (it's easy to search by address), or you can zoom out to see larger areas or to compare your neighborhood or city or state with others.

WEEK 1 (March 20 through March 26)

Click to view a summary presentation from this week's analysis [PDF]

National Response Rate Trends

The nationwide 2020 Census self-response rate as of Thursday, March 26, was 28.1%.

This represented an increase of 14 percentage points since the first day the Census Bureau began publishing response rates on March 20, when the national rate was 14.1%. Overall, this increase represents an average daily increase of 2 percentage points. This rate of increase was slower than over a comparable time period in 2010. In 2010, during the first week that response rates were published, the nationwide rate increased from 12.5% on the first day to 39.3% at the end of the first week – an average increase of 3.8 percentage points per day.

The chart below visualizes the increase in 2010 (the long red line) compared with the increase so far in 2020 (the shorter red line noted with the arrow). The other lines represent state-by-state response rates in 2020. (The Census Bureau did not publish daily response rates from 2010 at the state level.)

The following tables list the 2020 response rates so far by state, and the percentage point change by state from March 20 through March 26.

TABLE 1. States ranked by March 26 census response rate (nationwide rate included for comparison)

State Response Rate (%) as of March 26
Wisconsin 35
Minnesota 34.5
Iowa 34.3
Nebraska 34.2
Michigan 32.8
Kansas 32.2
Virginia 31.7
Idaho 31.6
Utah 31.5
Illinois 31.1
Indiana 31
Ohio 30.5
Washington 30.2
Massachusetts 29.9
Missouri 29.8
South Dakota 29.8
Mississippi 29.7
Pennsylvania 29.6
Alabama 29.5
Oregon 29.4
Connecticut 29
Maryland 29
Tennessee 28.9
Colorado 28.9
Kentucky 28.3
North Dakota 28.2
Nationwide 28.1
Nevada 28.1
Florida 27.9
Arkansas 27.8
Rhode Island 27.8
Louisiana 27.5
New Jersey 27.5
Arizona 27.5
Delaware 27.4
California 27.3
New Hampshire 26.8
Georgia 26.1
North Carolina 25.8
District of Columbia 25.7
South Carolina 25.6
Oklahoma 25.2
Texas 23.9
New York 23.9
Hawaii 23.8
Maine 22.8
Vermont 22.6
Montana 22.1
Wyoming 21.4
New Mexico 20.4
West Virginia 19.1
Alaska 16.2

TABLE 2. States ranked by percentage point change in census response rate, March 20 through March 26 (nationwide increase is included for comparison)

State Percentage Point Increase March 20 to March 26
Minnesota 18.1
Michigan 17.3
Wisconsin 17.2
Utah 16.9
Washington 16.6
Ohio 15.9
Connecticut 15.8
Maryland 15.4
Iowa 15.4
Virginia 15.3
Indiana 15.3
New Hampshire 15.3
Oregon 15.1
Tennessee 15.1
Nebraska 14.9
Illinois 14.8
Kentucky 14.7
Georgia 14.7
Massachusetts 14.7
Mississippi 14.7
Louisiana 14.7
Alabama 14.4
Colorado 14.4
Pennsylvania 14.3
North Carolina 14.2
North Dakota 14.2
New Jersey 14.2
Missouri 14
Nationwide 14
Kansas 13.9
Idaho 13.8
Florida 13.6
South Carolina 13.4
Arkansas 12.9
Delaware 12.8
Texas 12.7
Nevada 12.6
California 12.6
Arizona 12.6
Hawaii 12.2
South Dakota 12.2
New York 11.7
Montana 11.5
Oklahoma 11.5
Rhode Island 11
District of Columbia 10.9
Maine 10.7
Wyoming 9.9
Vermont 9.7
New Mexico 9.7
West Virginia 9.3
Alaska 8.6

The rate of increase in response rates in the first week of reporting was uneven across the country. The following map shows the county-level changes in response rates from March 20 through March 26, in percentage points.

The red ovals on the map highlight three areas as examples of especially modest increases: West Virginia, the Texas border, and the Arizona/New Mexico border region. But the next map shows that these areas also are where the Census Bureau was planning to hand-deliver census packets to households as part of its “Update/Leave” operation (the areas highlighted in yellow on the map below). This operation was suspended shortly after it started on March 16 due to COVID-19, meaning most households in those areas have not yet received their invitation to respond to the census on-line, by phone, or using the paper form included in those packets.

While households in the Update/Leave universe can respond to the census on-line or by phone with the unique ID number assigned to their address, many households in those areas might lack reliable broadband access and even phone service, and they might not be aware of this “non-ID response” option. Among the communities affected by the suspension of this operation, which covers about 6.6 million housing units: most American Indian reservations, some colonias in the Rio Grande Valley, all of Puerto Rico, and other communities lacking city-style addressing or direct mail delivery.

Internet-only Response Rate Trends

A major innovation of the 2020 Census is the option to fill out the census questionnaire online, in English plus 12 non-English languages. The Census Bureau is hoping most households use this online option in order to save time and costs. (Putting aside households in the Update/Leave operation and a few other “remote” areas, only 20 percent of all other households nationwide received a paper form in the first mailing. All households also can give their census responses by phone, in the same 13 languages as on-line, plus TDD for hearing impaired persons.)

The online response rate nationwide as of March 26 was 24.5%. That means 87% of self-response nationwide has been via the Census Bureau’s online portal.

The online response rate pattern was uneven across the country. The following map shows the online response patterns by census tract nationwide, as a share of overall response rates. In tracts shaded in dark blue, 80% or more of the responses have been via the online portal. In the lighter green census tracts, fewer than 40% of the responses have been online, meaning most of the responses have been either by phone or by mail. (The Census Bureau does not report a separate rate for phone or mail responses.)

The red ovals on the map highlight four regions where internet response rates are relatively low — in other words, where most responses are by phone or by mail. A likely explanation for this pattern is that households in these areas received the “Internet Choice” packets, which contained the paper questionnaire, as well as information on how to fill out the census form online or by phone. The map below shows census tracts, highlighted in light green, where households received Internet Choice packets.

These geographic correlation between type of census mailing and online response rates are reflected also in the national statistics. As of March 26, in tracts nationwide where households received “Internet First” mailings, which did not include a paper questionnaire:

  • average overall response rate was 29.2%; and
  • average internet response rate was 28.6%.

In other words, almost 98% of self-response in “Internet First” tracts has been online.

As of March 26, in tracts nationwide where households received “Internet Choice” mailings:

  • average overall response rate was 24.6%; and
  • average internet response rate was 10.6%.

Two findings are noteworthy about the response rates in “Internet Choice” tracts. First, on average, most households in census tracts that received the paper questionnaire as a “choice” along with internet and phone options chose not to fill out the census form online and instead either mailed back the paper form or called in their responses by phone.

Second, the average overall response rate in these “Internet Choice” tracts was lower than in “Internet First” tracts.

Bilingual Mailings

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau also identified census tracts where at least 20% of households speak Spanish as their primary language at home, based on estimates from the ongoing American Community Survey. Households in these tracts received “bilingual English-Spanish” materials, either in their Internet First or Internet Choice census packets. Our analysis of response rates in “bilingual 2020 Census tracts” over the first week of reported response rates (as of March 26) showed the following:

In “Internet First” tracts that received bilingual mailings:

  • average overall response rate was 21%
  • average internet response rate was 20.5%

In “Internet Choice” tracts that received bilingual mailings:

  • average overall response rate was 19.4%
  • average internet response rate was 9.9%

Response rates analyzed by tract-level population characteristics

It’s important to remember that self-response rates do not reveal any information about the number of people or the share of population that has been counted; self-response only represents households that have responded. Self-response rates also do not tell us anything about the characteristics of the population or the households that have been counted so far, such as their race or ethnicity or whether there are young children in the household.

But we can examine patterns of response rates based on tract-level population characteristics, using the latest American Community Survey (ACS) estimates, to gauge how well communities with historically undercounted populations are responding compared with other communities. Below are selected findings from our Week 1 analysis.


For our “Hard to Count” map, we use ACS estimates for people who reported their race “alone or in combination with other races.” (Note: People of Hispanic origin can be of any race.) We also use ACS estimates for people who identify as being of Hispanic origin, regardless of race.

Using these estimates, we compare tract-level self-response rates for tracts whose populations are predominantly one race category or another, “alone or in combination with other races.”

Nationwide at the census tract level, as of March 26:

  • The average response rate for predominantly Hispanic tracts is 18.8%, the lowest of all groups that we examined.
  • The average response rate for tracts whose population is predominantly Black is 23.4%.
  • The average response rate for tracts whose population is predominantly Asian is 28.1%.
  • Tracts whose population is predominantly White had the highest average response rate: 29.1%.

For other population groups, we were able to compare general response rate trends, including:

  • Are the rates generally higher or lower if a tract’s population has a smaller or greater share of one demographic group or another; and
  • How strong is that correlation: strongly positive or negative, or moderately or “weakly” positive or negative?

This week, we prepared this analysis for the following characteristics:

  • Foreign born population
  • Households with limited English proficiency
  • People with incomes below 200% of the poverty line
  • Renter-occupied households
Foreign born population

Nationwide at the census tract level:

  • Response rates tend to be lower in tracts with a greater share of population that is foreign born (this is a modest relationship; the correlation statistic = -.218).
  • In census tracts in large cities in metro areas, the pattern is stronger than the overall nationwide trend:
    • the correlation statistic is -.353, indicating that it’s more likely in metro cities that response rates are lower in communities with a greater share of immigrants.
LEP / low income / renters

Limited English proficiency (LEP) households:

  • Response rates tend to be lower in tracts with a greater share of LEP households (correlation statistic = -.325)
  • In census tracts in large cities in metro areas, the pattern is stronger:the correlation statistic is -.428

Low income population:

  • Response rates tend to be lower in tracts with a greater share of people w/low incomes (incomes below 200% of poverty level); the correlation statistic = -.526.
  • In metro cities, the pattern is also strong: correlation statistic = -.582

Renter households:

  • Response rates tend to be lower in tracts with a greater share of renters; the correlation statistic = -.415
  • In metro cities, the pattern is much stronger: the correlation statistic = -.610

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.