Interactive Online Map Pinpoints Communities at Greatest Risk for Census 2020 Undercount

Census News 10.26,17

Hard-To-Count resource identifies communities most likely to be harmed by underfunded census operations, most in need of focused outreach to ensure accurate count

WASHINGTON— A new resource for public officials and community leaders identifies rural and urban areas across the country that are most at risk of undercounting if the Census Bureau does not have sufficient funding to conduct effective outreach and a thorough door-to-door operation in historically hard-to-count communities.

The Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) has produced a searchable online map that identifies communities whose demographics and other characteristics qualify them as “hard-to-count” for purposes of the 2020 Census. Being undercounted can rob communities of fair political representation as well as an equitable share of more than $600 billion in resources for education, housing, and other community needs that are distributed annually based on census data. Census data are also used to monitor implementation of civil rights laws.

“There are hard-to-count communities in every state, and hard-to-count population groups in communities of all sizes, from large urban areas such as Denver, New York, and Omaha, to smaller cities such as Virginia Beach and Little Rock,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in recent congressional testimony. Rural and remote communities also are vulnerable to being undercounted, she noted, adding that 87 percent of the hardest-to-count counties in the 2010 Census were rural.

The hard-to-count map, developed by the mapping team at the CUNY Graduate Center, is searchable by congressional and state legislative district or simply by clicking on a geographic area to identify census tract data about population, self-response rates in the 2010 Census, and reliable internet access. Internet access is an important factor for the 2020 Census, when the Census Bureau will urge most households to fill out the census form online rather than use paper questionnaire.

“While the 2020 Census will deploy new technologies and procedures designed to reduce paperwork and save money, those changes will not by themselves overcome the challenges of reaching hard-to-count areas,” noted Steven Romalewski, whose team at CUNY developed the maps. For example, a major strategy for boosting response and containing costs will be a first-time online response option. However, Romalewski’s analysis has documented that congressional districts with low mail return rates in the 2010 Census also tended to have more households without internet access. Telephone and paper questionnaire response, as well as in-person follow-up visits to unresponsive households, cost more than internet participation. The Census Bureau also needs adequate funding to deploy targeted outreach and advertising in hard-to-count communities in 2020.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality (GCPI) recently released “Counting Everyone in the Digital Age: The Implications of Technology Use in the 2020 Decennial Census for the Count of Disadvantaged Groups,” a report that addresses how proposed internet and automation technologies will affect the 2020 Census for groups at risk of being undercounted.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross acknowledged in recent congressional testimony that completing a successful 2020 Census will require more funds than the administration previously requested. His testimony reflects a growing bipartisan recognition of the urgent need to boost funding for the census over the next few years. Budget shortfalls have already led to the cancellation of crucial 2020 Census field tests of new technologies and procedures, and the Trump administration’s initial budget request for 2018 was “inadequate,” according to Gupta.

The potentially disastrous consequences of continued underfunding have been recognized across the political and ideological spectrum. In August, former Census Bureau directors appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents called for a boost in spending for final census tests, preparations, and implementation. In September, senior researchers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the American Enterprise Institute, two think tanks often on opposite sides of policy questions, called for fully funded census operations. “No policy or philosophical outlook is well-served by a lack of accurate data,” they wrote.

“The effort to count everyone living in America happens only once every 10 years,” said Gupta. “It’s a massive undertaking, and we only have one chance to get it right. As the CUNY maps show, the consequences of failure are not abstract. There are real people living in real communities that could be shortchanged for an entire decade if they are not accurately counted.”

Gupta said community-based organizations in hard-to-count areas should urge their state and local officials to take part in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, a voluntary operation that gives state and local governments an opportunity to identify new and overlooked residential addresses for the upcoming count. The deadline for governments to register for LUCA is December 15, 2017; participating jurisdictions will receive their address lists and digital maps for review, under strict confidentiality guidelines, between February and June of 2018.

The interactive Hard-to-Count map is available at

The webinar is available here.

About the Leadership Conference Education Fund

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works to build an America as good as its ideals. The Leadership Conference Education Fund builds public will for federal policies that promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States.