Shelby County Identified as Potentially Hard to Count in the Upcoming 2020 U.S. Census

By Ryan Hanson

A recently-developed web application attempts to identify hard-to-count communities in an effort to improve response rates in the upcoming 2020 Census. The website, HTC 2020, was developed by the City University of New York and shows the response rates of the 2010 Census.

Prior censuses were conducted utilizing mailed response forms. Individuals who responded were categorized as self-respondents. The Census Bureau sent enumerators to attempt to personally count non-respondents through residential visits. This was both a time-consuming and a costly process for taxpayers.

Data relating to non-respondents from the 2010 Census have been mapped and analyzed in an effort to anticipate potentially hard-to-count communities in the 2020 Census. The data indicate that the leading indicator for non-respondents is a high prevalence of renters. Other characteristics of populations with increased risk of being undercounted include households with young children, people of color, rural residents, and low-income households.

The federal government uses data collected by the Census to determine the amount of resources and funds to be appropriated to communities. Therefore, it is important for a population to be fully counted in order to receive its fair share of available federal resources.

Screenshot 1 presents national-level data by Census tract. The map shows decreasing levels of self-response, with areas of darker red having the lowest rates and thus being the hardest to count. Hard-to- count communities are located in the South, the Mississippi Delta, the Southwest, West Virginia, and areas of the western states. Screenshot 2 shows the hard-to-count areas of Shelby County by Census tract. Large numbers of the County areas are classified as hard to count. These include north and south of the Poplar Corridor, Downtown, Southeast Memphis, and Cordova. In addition to mapping by Census tract, the application also allows the data to be mapped at the state and county levels as well as by congressional and state legislative districts.

The 2020 Census will give citizens the opportunity to respond online for the first time, but this has raised some concerns about populations with limited internet access being fully represented. Households can still respond through the mail.

In conclusion, the City of Memphis and Shelby County have large minority populations, increasing Hispanic populations, and high poverty rates, all of which have been shown to lead to population undercounts in the past. The City and County should respond with increased planning and research in order to address the issue of hard-to-count populations, or an undercounting in the 2020 Census could result in insufficient federal funding and resources. 

The HTC 2020 website and data can be further explored through the following link:

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 2

Screenshot 2

A special thanks goes to Melissa Stefanini for her presentation at the Tennessee State Data Center Affiliate Meeting.

Stefanini, M. (2018, August). Hard to Count 2020 Tool Demo. Presented at the Tennessee Data Center Affiliate Meeting, UT Conference Center.