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Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Weeks 10 and 11

Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Weeks 10 and 11)

Prepared June 7, 2020

HTC 2020 map news

Links to analyses from prior weeks:

WEEKS 10 and 11 (May 22 - June 4)

Summary materials:

  • PowerPoint presentation of Week 10 / 11 results [PDF]
  • One-page summary of Week 10 /11 results [forthcoming]
  • NB: our next analysis will cover Weeks 12 and 13 (June 5 - June 18)
  • As of June 1, the Census Bureau is only updating self-response rates on weekdays

National Response Rate Trends

The nationwide 2020 Census self-response rate as of Thursday, June 4 was 60.6%. The 2020 Census response rate at the national level continues to increase, but more slowly than in prior weeks. The rate on June 4 was less than 1 point above the rate two weeks ago on May 21.

Nonetheless, the nation has now surpassed the Census Bureau's projected 60.5% self-response rate for 2020. The Bureau had projected achieving this rate on or before April 30, when the self-response operation would have been completed before the COVID-19 pandemic required adjustments to the schedule, and the door-knocking operation (Nonresponse Follow-up, or NRFU) would have begun in mid-May.

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

FIGURE 1 (Click to view larger image)

State-by-state response rates

The following charts 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 June 4.

Note the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the charts in Figures 2 and 3. Now that the Update/Leave operation has resumed 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 June 4 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 June 4 (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 6/4. Click to view larger image.

Despite the slowing rate of increase at the national level, there are again important examples of response rates improving at the local level (we reported similar local gains compared to the national rate increase as of May 21).

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 (response rates reported from March 20 through March 26), the U.S. overall had a larger response rate than each of these cities, and New York 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. In Weeks 10 and 11, the weekly increases in several cities – including, 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.

In the last two weeks, New York City's response rate increased twice as much as the U.S. increase. In New York, the rate increased from 49.6% on May 21 to 51.2% on June 7 – an increase of 1.6 percentage points. Nationwide in that period, the rate increased 0.8 points.

FIGURE 4 (click to view larger image)

Key areas of concern analyzed for Weeks 10 and 11

In addition to these overall response rate trends, we focus our analysis for Weeks 10 and 11 on the following issues:

  1. The latest response rates in states where Update/Leave operations resumed on a phased basis starting May 6
  2. Areas already meeting their final 2010 response rates
  3. Update on Internet First vs Internet Choice response rate gap
  4. Update on response rates in plurality "historically undercounted population" and "low self-response rate" census tracts


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 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 operations resumed in additional states – as well as in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia – on May 20, May 27, and June 3. 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 did not resume (or is not resuming) in all Area Census Offices at the same time. Also, the ACOs shown in grey 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 or have restarted.

FIGURE 5 (click to view larger image)

Now that it has been several weeks since Update/Leave operations resumed in 22 states (either on 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 most or all 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)

We compared rates on May 6 with rates four weeks later (June 3):

  • Overall, there are only modest response rate increases for majority U/L tracts over this period.
  • We continue to see similar patterns to changes noted as of May 21 (Weeks 8 and 9 report):
  • Tracts with majority of housing units that received census packets by mail had greater rate increases than Update/Leave tracts.
  • Majority U/L tracts tended to have greater increases for internet response than mail/phone 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)

We compared rates on May 13 with rates three weeks later (June 3):

  • Overall, there are only modest response rate increases for majority U/L tracts over this period.
  • But in several Week 2 states, majority U/L tracts had response rate increases on par with majority mail-out tracts.
  • Similar to Week 1 states, majority U/L tracts tended to have greater increases for internet response than mail/phone response.

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. The Census Bureau also has not added targeted advertising in Update/Leave areas to its communications campaign. In mid-June, the Bureau will mail a postcard to households in the Update/Leave operation that only receive mail at a post office box, letting them know that their census packet has been or soon will be delivered to the door of their home. All of these factors could affect the pace of self-response increases in census tracts where all or some households are covered by the Update/Leave operation.


Based on the response rates published on June 4, just over 12,000 census tracts have exceeded their 2010 rates, representing 14% of all census tracts nationwide. This is an increase from 9,300 tracts on May 21. The average response rate for tracts that surpassed their 2010 response rates as of June 4 is 71.1%, which is 10.5 points above the U.S. rate.

Just over 50 million people live in these census tracts, according to American Community Survey estimates for the 2014-18 5-year period. But the population characteristics for these tracts (also based on the 2014-18 ACS data) are different from the historically undercounted communities in which census stakeholders and civil rights groups have focused their 2020 Census outreach efforts.

Combined population characteristics for the 12,000 tracts that have surpassed their 2010 response rates are as follows:

  • 68% White (non-Hispanic)
  • 8% Black
  • 13% Hispanic
  • 7% Asian
  • Housing is 70% owner-occupied
  • 3% of households are limited English proficient (LEP)
  • Population in poverty: 10%
  • Roughly even distribution by educational attainment (people age 25+):
    • 31% high school diploma or less
    • 31% college (less than bachelor's degree)
    • 38% bachelor's degree or higher

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.

Beginning on April 8, the Census Bureau mailed paper questionnaires and reminder letters to non-responding households in mail-out areas. At this point, all households that originally received either an Internet First or an Internet Choice mailing have received a paper questionnaire.

Our analysis below examines the ongoing response rate gap between Internet First and Internet Choice tracts. We find that the gap is still large, but it is decreasing.

On June 4, the average response rate was 65.3% across all tracts nationwide where homes received Internet First packets. This rate was almost 5 points above the June 4 U.S. rate of 60.6%. A month ago, on May 7, the average "Internet First" rate also was about 5 points above the U.S. rate at the time.

The average response rate on June 4 across all tracts nationwide where homes received Internet Choice packets was only 52.5%. This was 8 points below the June 4 U.S. rate. This gap, while troubling, reflects an improvement; a month ago, on May 7, the average "Internet Choice" response rate was 9 points below the U.S. rate.

The gap between the average response rate for Internet First and Internet Choice tracts also has improved – it is now just under 13 points. On May 7, it was 14 points. The gap is substantial, but it is decreasing, indicating that more homes in Internet Choice communities relative to Internet First communities are responding to the census.

(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 on March 18 due to COVID-19 safety concerns. A phased restart of this operation began on May 6.)

This decrease in the gap between Internet First and Internet Choice tracts, while modest overall, is especially noticeable for tracts whose populations are predominantly people of color.

Table 5 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 is the predominant population.

TABLE 5 (click to view larger table)

Table 6 below shows the change in response rates for these tracts between May 7 and June 4. The table highlights that rates for Internet Choice tracts have greater increases than Internet First for all tracts as categorized by plurality people of color.

Similarly, the table shows that rates are increasing the most for tracts with plurality populations of color that received bilingual (Spanish and English) Internet Choice census packets.

TABLE 6 (click to view larger table)


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 due to predicted low self-response rates. Importantly, this does not indicate anything about the population in households that have responded. It only compares the response rates for census tracts that have certain population characteristics. All population data are based on estimates for the 2014-2018 period from the American Community Survey.

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, as well as for governmental units (incorporated places) outside of metropolitan areas and for unincorporated places. The results are shown in Table 7. 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 main finding presented in Table 7 is that tract-level rates continue to be lowest for all types of tracts in the largest cities across the country.

TABLE 7 Response rates as of June 4 for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (click to view a larger image)

(Note that in Table 7, 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.)

Despite the continued low rates in large cities, Table 8 below shows that response rates have been increasing in tracts whose populations are predominantly Black or Hispanic, and in the small number of tracts whose population is plurality American Indian/Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (not including tracts that are covered by the Update/Leave operation). Also, response rates in tracts that are predominantly Black in the nation's largest cities have increased the most: 4.4 percentage points between May 7 and June 4.

TABLE 8 Percentage point response rate increases for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (click to view a larger image)

Children under age 5

Children under age 5 represent the age cohort 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 the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) analyzed 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 54.9% as of June 4.

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 June 4 is 46.9%, almost 14 points lower than the national average. This gap continues to widen; it was 13 points as of April 30 and 12 points as of April 9.

By contrast, tracts with less than 30% of the population in poverty had an average response rate as of June 4 of 64.3%, above the national average.

Educational attainment

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 68.6% (8 points above U.S. rate).
  • In tracts where a plurality of people have a high school degree or less, average tract response rate is 58% (almost 3 points below U.S. rate).
  • In the nation's largest cities (with populations of 1 million or more), response rates for both education groups are lower:
    • Tracts with a plurality of people holding bachelor's degree or higher have an average response rate of 58.2% (below the U.S. rate).
    • Tracts with a plurality of people holding a high school degree or less have an average response rate of 49.1% (9 points below higher-degree tracts and almost 12 points below 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.