Getting Out the Hard-to-Count

There are no census undercount estimates for census tracts or neighborhoods. Mail return rates are often used as a proxy for the risk of being missed in the census. Based on poor mail return rates, the Census Bureau labels some areas as Hard-To-Count (HTC). As might be expected, HTC tracts are mostly found in communities of color and rural areas.

A recent point-and-click U.S. chart prepared by CUNY shows where the HTC areas are located.

Former Census Bureau Director John Thompson says he believes partnership specialists, working with community organizations, churches, local businesses, etc., and employed by the Census Bureau in HTC areas, helped reduce the undercount in the last census.

However, partnership specialists need to be deployed several years in advance of the decennial census to establish local relationships. Former Director Thompson believes that 100-200 partnership specialists should already be employed at this point in the decennial planning cycle.

But, there is no money in the FY 2018 budget beyond the 40 specialists that have already been hired. And, even with the initial 40 hires, it is unclear if they are working in HTC areas.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stated in recent congressional testimony that the new 2020 Census budget was going to increase the number of partnership specialists from the 800 budgeted in 2010 to 1,000 for the 2020 Census.

The Census Project believes money should be appropriated by Congress as it considers the FY 2018 Census Bureau budget in early December for additional partnership specialists to target HTC areas.

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