Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Rural areas risk being undercounted in 2020 census

In an attempt to save money, the Census Bureau will try to get most people to fill out the 2020 census form online instead of using a paper questionnaire. When more people fill out the survey online, the bureau doesn't have to follow up with costly door-to-door visits. The problem with pushing online self-response is that many rural areas lack broadband or any internet service, and those people may be under-counted. If rural residents are under-counted, their jurisdictions may receive less government funding and redrawn political maps may not accurately reflect their presence.

The Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York analyzed 2010 census mail return rates and the share of households in each congressional district with inadequate internet service and created a map that shows the counties most likely to be under-counted in 2020. "If these districts already tend to have low self-response via mail, and households in these districts also tend to be less connected to the internet, then the preferred online option for self-response in 2020 may not help boost response as much as it would in other districts with better digital access," the report says.

The darker the area, the harder it is to count. Click on the map to enlarge it,
or click here for the interactive map with county-level data. (CUNY map)
New Mexico is the hardest state to count, the report says. "Obtaining an accurate head count gets a lot harder in communities that are difficult to navigate, such as New Mexico’s frontiers, and communities where people might move around regularly with no fixed address or simply will not open the door for a government worker," Andrew Oxford reports for The New Mexican.

The bureau meant to test the new system in rural West Virginia, but said it could not afford to because of the budget cuts. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson resigned following the budget cuts, and a permanent replacement has not yet been appointed.

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