Census 2020

A compilation of the Center for Urban Research's efforts to analyze and report on Census 2020 self-response rates and other metrics and issues during the 2020 Census.

All work and materials below are supported by a grant from the 2020 Census Project and developed in partnership with the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Data Analysis

Prepared October 18, 2020

Final review of self-response rate trends throughout the 2020 Census self-response operation.

Highlighted topics:

  • Latest self-response rates at the early end (10/15) of the data collection period.
  • Overview of self-response rates throughout the extended timeframe and trends impacting those rates.
  • Increase in number of states and other areas meeting or surpassing 2010 goalpost rates.
  • Important demographic shifts in tracts with the lowest rates (requiring most door-knocking follow up): fewer people who are Hispanic or immigrants, and fewer renter households. But overall population in "bottom 20%" tracts are still disproportionately people of color, foreign-born, lower income, etc.
  • Response rates by predominant race/Hispanic origin in census tracts across cities by size & rural/suburban/urban areas (including tribal lands).
  • Key takeaways and final thoughts.

Download the PDF presentation for the full analysis and takeaways

Prepared October 22, 2020

Review of 2020 Census self-response rates for New York State and New York City.

Highlighted topics:

  • Latest self-response rates for New York State and counties & cities with highest/lowest rates at early end (10/15) of data collection period.
  • Counties, cities, etc. meeting or surpassing 2010 goalpost rates.
  • Growth of concentration of counties meeting/surpassing 2010 rates.
  • NYC self-response rates.
  • Key takeaways and final thoughts.

Download the presentation PDF for the full analysis and takeaways

Prepared March 30 - August 6, 2020

On a periodic basis over the course of the 2020 Census, the Center presented an analysis of 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. Reports highlight trends and changes by geographic area and demographic data, response methods, and more. 

View all week-by-week reports

Information and Reports

We have received several emails asking how to map the 2020 Census self-response rates, and how to compare those rates with demographic characteristics & other census participation metrics. This is not as straightforward as you might think, due to new data from the Census Bureau combined with Census Bureau terms that can be confusing. This Census 2020 Self-Response Data Q&A is intended to help guide other data analysts as they try to make sense of the 2020 (and 2010) self-response rates.

Read the Q&A

Prepared March 10, 2020

The Census 2020 Hard to Count (HTC 2020) map has been updated with self-response trends from the past two decennial censuses, to provide historical context as stakeholders fine-tune their Get Out the Count (GOTC) plans and participate in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Response Rate Challenge. This explainer discusses the different ways the Census Bureau measures self-response for the decennial census.

What are self-response rates and why are they different from what the map featured before?

The Census Bureau uses different terminology and calculations to measure the concept of “self-response” - i.e., the number of households that have "self-responded" by filling out the census form on their own, as a percent of housing units in a given area.

One measure is the return rate. If you've been using the HTC 2020 map, you're probably familiar with return rates because that's what we've used to highlight census tracts where 73% or fewer households in 2010 mailed back their census forms, making them among the hardest to count tracts nationwide.

The "return rate” represents the number of households that fill out the census form on their own (in 2010, that meant mailing it back) as a percent of occupied housing units only.

But the “return” rate can only be calculated after the census count is completed, once the Census Bureau determines which housing units are occupied or vacant and whether some addresses turned out to be nonexistent.

Another measure is the response rate, which represents the number of households returning their census questionnaire as a percent of all housing units (whether they're occupied, vacant, demolished, or otherwise undeliverable as addressed). The "response" rate is a less precise measure of self-response, or household cooperation, than the "return" rate. But the “response” rate is the only way to measure self-response while the census is taking place.

For 2020, the Census Bureau will be calculating and reporting response rates during the 2020 count. Therefore, to directly compare the 2020 rates with earlier censuses and to be consistent with the Census Bureau's reporting, we’ve added the response rates to the HTC map. The data on mail “return” rates is still available on the map, but the “response” rates are now more prominent. Remember that response rates tend to be lower than return rates for any given area, simply because of math: the response rate denominator is larger (all housing units vs only occupied housing units), so the rate itself is smaller. Keep that in mind if you've familiarized yourself with the mail return rates we've been displaying on the HTC map.

Posted November 22, 2019 / Updated December 18, 2019

For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau will be providing options for households across the country to submit their census responses, compared with 2010 when almost all households received a paper questionnaire by mail and were asked to return the completed form also by mail. Depending where you live, you may receive a mailed invitation with a unique ID to respond online or by phone (an "Internet First" mailing).  Or you may receive a paper version of the census questionnaire that you can mail back to the Bureau (this is an "Internet Choice" mailing because it will include the paper questionnaire plus instructions for responding online). Some of these areas may receive the mailing in Spanish and English. Other communities will not be receiving a mailed invitation at all; instead they either will receive hand-delivered census packets from the Census Bureau or will be counted directly in-person. The information on all these different 2020 Census contact techniques is now combined in one place at our Hard to Count map, so census stakeholders can more easily inform local residents about what to expect when the 2020 decennial census takes place. 

View the full report

Posted October 23, 2018

The nation’s more than 16,700 public libraries will likely play an essential role in helping to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 census. Not only are public libraries important information sources for local communities across the country, but virtually all public libraries provide public internet access computers as well as public wi-fi. Internet access is critical because for the first time the decennial census in 2020 will be available online, and the Census Bureau will be urging most households to submit their replies to the census questionnaire via a secure website. Public library computers can provide a convenient opportunity to submit 2020 census information for households that do not otherwise have easy access to the internet. This analysis by the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center / CUNY examines the proximity of public libraries in the U.S. to hard-to-count census tracts and areas with poor internet access, with an eye toward the role of libraries in the upcoming 2020 Census.

View the full report

Posted April 17, 2018

For the upcoming 2020 Census, the Census Bureau plans to open only 248 Area Census Offices — half as many as in 2010 — to carry out important census tasks and valuable local assistance. The cut in the number of local census offices affects almost every state and many counties in urban, rural, & suburban areas across the country. The link above provides charts that display the proposed reductions for the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well as for the counties that will experience the largest drops in the number of local offices.

View full report

Posted October 26, 2017

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will urge most households to fill out the census form online rather than use a paper questionnaire. This is an effort to boost self-response rates and reduce costs. But in some areas of the country, especially in disadvantaged communities that have proven more vulnerable to being undercounted in the past, relatively low internet access may hinder the effort to increase online response. This could make it even more challenging to conduct a fair and accurate census in the nation's hardest-to-count areas, and counterintuitively may also adversely impact some areas that would be considered more likely to self-respond during the 2020 Census based on historical trends. The Center for Urban Research's analysis presents these concerns. Also, our Hard to Count online map shows which communities across the country may be impacted the greatest by these issues.

View full report