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Census 2020 Response Rate Analysis: Weeks 12 and 13

Mapping "Self-Response" for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census (Weeks 12 and 13)

Prepared June 21, 2020

HTC 2020 map news

Links to analyses from prior weeks:

WEEKS 12 and 13 (June 5 - June 18)

Summary materials:

  • PowerPoint presentation of Week 12 / 13 results [PDF]
  • One-page summary of Week 12 /13 results [forthcoming]
  • NB: our next analysis will cover a three-week timeframe Weeks 14, 15, & 16 (June 19 - July 9)
  • 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 18 was 61.5%. In the past two weeks, the daily increases have been moderate, except for a substantial increase between Friday, June 12, and Monday, June 15, when the U.S. rate increased 0.5 point (before that, the U.S. rate had not increased by more than 0.1 point in one day since May 14 to May 15).

Over the June 12 - 15 weekend, the response rates for several states increased by several points. (Starting June 1, the Census Bureau shifted from reporting daily self-response rates to reporting rates Monday through Friday. Therefore, response rates now reported on a Monday reflect responses from Friday through midnight on Sunday.) Alaska's response rate increased by more than 5 points. Puerto Rico's response rate more than doubled, from 9.2% to 18.9%, and is now 20.3% -- an increase since June 12 of 11.1 points.

In Section 1 of this report, we analyze in more detail the increases in areas covered by the Update/Leave operation. In Puerto Rico, all housing units are included in the Census Bureau's Update/Leave operation, which was suspended in early March due to the pandemic and resumed on May 22. Stateside, most increases between June 12 and June 15 were in states/counties with substantial shares of housing units covered by Update/Leave, while increases since June 15 at the national level have slowed. The notable one-weekend jump in response rates for many Update/Leave areas raised the question of whether there had been a backlog in tracing or checking-in paper questionnaire responses from Update/Leave areas. In fact, the Census Bureau confirmed an initial flaw in the system that tracked mail responses from Update/Leave households, which has now been fixed.

Another notable observation about the overall U.S. response rate is that the share of U.S. response via mail/phone has increased:

  • On April 1 (Census Day), 88% of responses were submitted online; 12% via mail/phone.
  • By June 18, share of mail/phone responses grew to 20.2% of the U.S. response rate, and online responses decreased to 79.8%.

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 18.

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.)

Several highlights of statewide response rates include:

  • All states except Alaska now have response rates of 50% or more. Alaska has the highest share of housing units covered by the Update/Leave operation (29.8%) of any state.
  • Michigan has become the first state to surpass its 2010 response rate of 67.7%; Michigan's response rate on June 18 was 67.8%.
  • West Virginia increased its response rate by 4.8 points, from 48.3% on June 12 to 53.1% on June 18. West Virginia has the second highest share of housing units covered by the Update/Leave operation (27.5%) of the 50 states.

FIGURE 2 States ranked by June 18 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 18 (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 6/18. Click to view larger image.

For Week 13 of our response rate analysis (through June 18), the U.S. response rate increased substantially. But during the prior week of our analysis (Week 12, through June 11), response rate increases in several of the nation's largest cities (with populations of 1 million or more) continued to outpace the nationwide increases. In particular, rates increased at a faster pace than nationwide in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Rates in these cities also increased notably during Week 13 of our analysis, despite being outpaced by the large U.S. increase the weekend of June 12 to 15; the latter primarily was due to increases in Update/Leave areas, of which few are in cities.

Figure 4 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).

FIGURE 4 (Click to view larger image)

Key areas of concern analyzed for Weeks 12 and 13

In addition to these overall response rate trends, we focus our analysis for Weeks 12 and 13 on the following issues:

  1. Response rate increases related to Update/Leave operations
  2. Internet First vs Internet Choice contact strategies: rates increasing for tracts that received bilingual mailing with paper questionnaire
  3. Response rates across tracts by plurality race/Hispanic origin
  4. New online trendline visualization and new response rate metric to help support GOTC work during the extended self-response timeframe


The Census Bureau's Update/Leave (U/L) operation involves hand-delivering census packets to households in some rural and remote areas, all of Puerto Rico, and on Tribal lands, covering 6.8 million housing units in 2020 (including approximately 1.7 million units in Puerto Rico). Most of these homes (about 95%), however, did not receive their packets before the Bureau suspended the U/L effort soon after it began in mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions.

On May 6, the Census Bureau began a phased restart of the U/L operation. As of the week of June 8, U/L had resumed everywhere, and on June 18, the Bureau announced that "Census workers have completed 96% of the 2020 Census Update Leave operation."

The map in Figure 5 highlights these states and the Area Census Offices (ACOs) within them that are overseeing the hand-delivery of census packets. The Bureau's website includes a list of all these ACOs, when field operations resumed, and how many housing units in each ACO are covered by the U/L operation.

Note that in some states, the Update/Leave operation did not resume 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 U/L. 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 the U/L operation has restarted.

FIGURE 5 (Click to view larger image)

In our prior report on response rates in Update/Leave areas (through June 4), we noted that rates in areas with substantial concentrations of housing units covered by the U/L operation were increasing slowly and were being outpaced by increases in non-U/L areas.

These modest increases in U/L areas continued through June 12 (five weeks after the phased restart of U/L had begun). But over the weekend between June 12 and June 15, substantial response rate increases were recorded across the country, especially in areas covered by U/L. The following tables and charts highlight these increases.

Table 1 presents the increases in the top 15 states with the greatest share of estimated housing units covered by U/L (the table includes Puerto Rico, which has 100% of its housing units covered by U/L). The first column shows the increases between June 12 and June 15. The second column presents the increases since June 15 (through June 18), which in several states (such as Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Hawaii) continue to be substantial — as well as Puerto Rico, which increased 1.4 points between June 15 and June 18.

TABLE 1 (Click to view larger version)

These increases, however, were not limited only to states with large shares of housing units covered by Update/Leave. Table 2 presents response rates at the tract level, showing rates by state separately for tracts where either most housing units in a tract were covered by U/L, or for tracts with a majority of units covered by the Mail-Out operation. The table only includes states where the response rates in tracts with a majority of housing units covered by U/L increased by 10 points or more between May 6 (when the Census Bureau began to resume the U/L operation) and June 18.

The states in Table 2 are sorted largest to smallest by the increase in response rates for "majority Update/Leave" (U/L) tracts. Notably, the three states with the greatest increase in response rates for majority U/L tracts (New Jersey, Ohio, and Kansas) had some of the smallest concentrations overall of housing units covered by Update/Leave. But the rates in U/L tracts in these states increased substantially.

TABLE 2 (Click to view larger version)

Some visual examples of substantial increases in response rates for small communities covered by Update/Leave are shown below in Figures 6 through 9. These are screenshots from the CUNY HTC/Response Rate map. The yellow outline in each screenshot delineates the community's border. The yellow highlighting on each map shows the extent of the local Update/Leave operation. The rate increases between June 12 and June 15 are highlighted in red ovals around the trendline graph to the left of each map.

FIGURE 6 Island Heights, NJ (estimated population 1,457, based on the 2014-18 American Community Survey): response rate almost tripled from 19% on June 12 to 54% on June 15 (Click to view the map online)

FIGURE 7 Bishop Hill, IL (population 114): response rate more than doubled from 30% to 75% (Click to view the map online)

FIGURE 8 Wyoming County, WV (population 21,711): response rate more than doubled from 15% to 33.7% (Click to view the map online)

FIGURE 9 Lincoln County, CO (population 5,548): response rate almost doubled from 31% to 51.4% (Click to view the map online)

Response rates also increased substantially in many tribal areas covered by the Update/Leave operation. Figure 10 shows the daily response rates from March 20 through June 18 for 73 of the largest tribal areas (populations of 1,000 or more) that had low response rates (below 30%) before June 12.

The chart shows that between June 12 and June 15, the response rates in almost a third (24) of these tribal areas increased substantially, between 5 and 22 percentage points. Response rates in more than half (38) of these areas increased by 1 point or more.

FIGURE 10 (Click to view larger image)


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. Therefore, at this point, all households that originally received either an Internet First or an Internet Choice mailing have received a paper questionnaire if they hadn't already self-responded by the time of the fourth, targeted mailing in April.

Our analysis below reveals important gains in tracts with populations that are predominantly people of color. (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.)

Table 3 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 based on the most recent American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2014-2018).

Table 4 shows the change in response rates for these tracts between June 4 and June 18. It reveals that tracts that are predominantly Black or Hispanic and where households received bilingual mailings in March from the Census Bureau had notable gains in self-response over that time period. Table 4 also shows that tracts that are predominantly Asian or Hispanic and received the Internet Choice mailing in March had larger response rate increases than other tracts between June 4 and June 18.

TABLE 3 (Click to view larger table)

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 for now.

TABLE 4 (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 for Weeks 12 and 13 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 5. 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 5 is that tract-level rates continue to be lowest for all types of tracts in the largest cities across the country, regardless of which race or ethnic (i.e. Hispanic origin) group represents the plurality of the population.

TABLE 5 Response rates as of June 18 for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (Click to view a larger image)

Despite the continued low rates in large cities, Table 6 shows that self-response rates have been increasing in tracts whose populations are predominantly Hispanic across all city sizes. (The small number of tracts whose population is plurality American Indian/Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander also have had notable increases.) In the nation's largest cities, response rates in tracts that are predominantly Black have increased the most: almost 1 percentage point, on average, between June 4 and June 18.

TABLE 6 Percentage point response rate increases for tracts with a plurality of each group, by city size (Click to view a larger image)


We have added a new feature to the CUNY HTC/Response Rate to help census stakeholders measure the progress of local Get Out the Count efforts to boost 2020 Census participation: a dynamic metric to quantify how many households need to self-respond to meet each local community's final 2010 response rate goal.

There are still more than four months remaining in the extended self-response timeframe that the Census Bureau established in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Householders can self-respond through October 31, 2020, although the Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) (door-knocking) operation to count non-responding households in person will begin on August 11 and continue through the end of October. This means that households can take advantage of the self-response option for an additional three months compared to the original pre-COVID-19 census schedule.

The new HTC/Response Rate map feature is designed to provide stakeholder groups with a manageable and measurable metric at the local level to track progress during the remaining self-response timeframe. A goal of many groups and local public officials is to meet and possibly surpass their community's final 2010 self-response rate. Simply comparing that rate with the current self-response percentage may not provide tangible markers for local groups with limited resources to determine how many households they need to convince to respond in order to meet the 2010 goal.

Therefore, the HTC/Response Rate map now displays for each census tract the estimated number of households that would need to complete the census each day, on average, between now and July 31 (the formal end of the Self-Response Operation, before census takers begin knocking on doors) to meet the tract's 2010 response rate. The map also shows this information by city and county as the average number of households per day per tract that would need to fill out the census to meet the city or county's 2010 goal.

The following figures are examples of how this information is displayed via the online map. This link displays a tract in Chicago, IL (also displayed in Figure 11). The left-hand panel shows that if an average of 1.2 households per day fill out the census by July 31, the tract will meet its 2010 rate.

FIGURE 11 (Click to view the map online)

If a tract has already achieved its 2010 rate, we note that as well. Figure 12 displays a tract in Chicago that has equaled and surpassed its 2010 response rate.

FIGURE 12 (Click to view the map online)

Figure 13 displays the same information for Chicago overall, indicating that if only three households, on average, fill out the census form per tract (across each of the city's 793 tracts) per day between now and July 31, Chicago would meet its 2010 goal.

FIGURE 13 (Click to view the map online)

These calculations are based on data from the Census Bureau's "Address Count Listing Files," representing the number of residential addresses per census block as of October 2019 in the Bureau's Master Address File (MAF). The MAF is the universe of housing units that are contacted by the Census Bureau to respond to the 2020 Census. The October 2019 data do not represent the final count of addresses in the MAF, but they are the most recent publicly available count of residential addresses prior to the launch of the 2020 Census.

In order to determine how many households still need to respond to meet each community's 2010 goal, we multiply the percentage point difference between the current response rate and the 2010 rate by the number of residential addresses in each tract from the Address Count Listing files and divide that by the number of days remaining between the current date and July 31. For cities and counties, we also divide that result by the number of tracts in the city or county.

It is important to understand that these calculations provide approximations of the actual number of households that would need to respond. But these estimates can be a helpful tool for stakeholder groups that need to quantify in a manageable way the number of households that need to fill out the census in order to at least meet and hopefully surpass each community's 2010 response rate goal.

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.