Presentation of Article 1’s 2020 Census Messaging Strategy

The Census Project hosted a briefing with Article 1 last week to present the results of their messaging research on the 2020 Census. The 20+ participants discussed the best approaches to encourage response, and now other stakeholders can take a similar deep dive.

From 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 15, the Census Project and Article 1 will be hosting a special webinar on the results of national audience research, convened by Article 1 – a nonprofit formed in 2018 and led by national census leaders, including former Census Bureau Directors. Article 1 was organized solely to share independent, non-partisan research and findings with the goal of strengthening national messaging efforts about the 2020 Census.

Steve Jost, Senior Vice President, Subject Matter, will present the results of Article 1’s key findings. We invite you to learn more about these findings and how they can help your organizations hone targeted, effective messages regarding participation in the 2020 Census.

Please RSVP by COB Tuesday, January 14 at the following link.

Many States Use Decennial Census Data to Distribute State Money

By William P. O’Hare, President, O’Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC

In the past few years, a lot of valuable information has been generated regarding how Decennial Census data are used to distribute federal funding to states and localities, usually from Professor Andrew Reamer’s Counting for Dollars project at George Washington University, whose most recent analysis indicates more than $1.5 trillion was distributed in Fiscal Year 2017 based on Census data.

However, while we have pretty good evidence about the use of Census data for distributing federal funds, much less is known about how much state money is distributed based on Census data. This includes state-generated estimates and projections that are based on the decennial Census counts. This paper provides some evidence on that issue by documenting the use of census-derived data distribution of state money in five states.

At a recent Committee on National Statistics workshop, Nicholas Nagle (2019), a Professor at the University of Tennessee, reported that in Tennessee, the money raised by state sales taxes is redistributed to localities based on total population counts.  Currently, this amounts to about $115 per person per year.

The North Carolina State Demographer, Michael Cline, says that state provides at least $205 per person per year based on census-derived data including population estimates (see slide 28 in this PowerPoint presentation). The $205 per person per year is based on just two programs and Cline is certain there are other programs that use census-derived data to distribute state money.

In the State of Washington, Mike Mohrman found that the state annually allocates about $200 million in shared state revenues to cities and counties on a per capita basis. These allotments are based on census counts when they are available and on county and city population estimates produced by the Office of Financial Management for non-census years. Current per capita allotments are estimated by Washington’s Municipal Research Services Center and can be found in their “2020 Budget Suggestions” publication. Washington also distributes some other monies to legislatively-mandated districts using funding formulas which include population as part of the formula. These populations are estimated by the Office of Financial Management and can be found on the ‘Special Area’ page of their website. Washington uses population estimates for program management for several other non-statutory districts as well. These estimates are based on census block data for census years and Office of Financial Management’s Small Area Estimate Program data for non-census years. The small area estimation methodology is described in the Small Area Estimates Program user guide. For more information on this situation, go to these websites:;

Jan Vink from Cornell University in New York says some New York counties use census data to re-distribute sales tax revenue to subcounty units. For more information on this, see Appendix A in this paper which describes how county sales tax is divided among localities.

In his presentation at a recent Committee on National Statistics workshop, Jeff Hardcastle (2019) noted that $79 million was distributed in Fiscal Year 2019 among 82 Nevada government units based on population estimates.

The point is that many states use Census data to distribute state money to localities. For many people, the connection between census counts and government funding is a strong incentive to make sure everyone in their community is counted in the Census. When respondents learn that communities do not get their fair share of government money when people are missed in the Census, it is a powerful motivation to make sure everyone in their community gets counted in the Census. The fact that many states use census data to distribute state money makes the accuracy of the Census count even more important.

The data shown here is based on a small haphazard sample, but it suggests a more systematic and thorough investigation of how census data are used to distribute state money is warranted. Nationwide, hundreds of millions of dollars in state financial aid is distributed based on census-derived data. If readers know of additional situations where state money is distributed based on census-derived data, please send the information to me at I would like to produce a more comprehensive study on this topic in the future.



House Committee Concerned about Getting Out the Count for Hard-To-Count American Populations and Areas

On January 9, 2020, at 10am, the House Oversight & Reform Committee will hold a hearing to “examine the Census Bureau’s strategies and plans for reaching hard-to-count communities in the 2020 Census.”

The witness list features a series of stakeholders: Vanita Gupta from The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, John Yang from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Arturo Vargas from NALEO Educational Fund, Kevin J. Allis from the National Congress of American Indians, and Marc Morial from the National Urban League.

As explained by the committee, they are “very concerned that minority and immigrant communities, as well as rural communities with limited Internet access, are at serious risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census, jeopardizing their accurate representation in Congress and access to federal funds.” Sadly, the Census Bureau appears to have “fallen behind its own targets for hiring census workers to reach hard-to-count communities and for hiring partnership specialists who serve as critical liaisons with these communities.”

The committee reminded the Bureau of the need to “work closely with local communities to ensure an accurate count,” and that will surely be a big focus of tomorrow’s hearing.

The hearing should be broadcast via the committee website, .

Get Out the Count: Children

Young children are one of the groups regularly undercounted in the decennial census. That’s why the NALEO Educational Fund is circulating a series of postcards to help encourage the inclusion of children up to four years of age in the 2020 Census. The cards are a convenient get-out-the-count tool, and come in multiple languages, with English on the front, and Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin on the back.


Final FY2020 Appropriations Legislation Includes $6.7 Billion for 2020 Census

On the eve of the 2020 Census, the Census Project commended Congress for finalizing the funding necessary for a fulsome headcount of the U.S. population. The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 1158, “minibus” legislation to fund much of the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020, which included nearly $6.7 billion for the 2020 Census (almost $7.6 billion for the Census Bureau overall).

As more than 200 organizations and companies pointed out in a December 6 stakeholder letter to Congress, “Major census operations have already begun and critical final steps— from recruiting and screening staff, to verifying addresses, to finalizing outreach and advertising plans — are finished or underway.”

The full funding in H.R. 1158 should allow the Census Bureau to reduce the risk of some looming threats that could undermine the count, such as natural disasters, cybersecurity attacks, IT failures, political controversies, or failure of new untested counting methodologies for rural and remote areas. Now that the Bureau has full-year funding certainty, it will be able to commit the resources needed for final preparations, major operations, and expanded activities targeting hard-to-count communities in rural, suburban and urban areas, without concern that funding might fall short or be cut off by a government shutdown.

The minibus’ funding level for the 2020 Census for FY2020 is the same as passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee this fall, $1.4 billion more than that requested by the White House ($5.3 billion), and $800 million below the House-passed CJS Appropriations level ($7.5 billion). It comes in addition to more than a billion dollars in funds carried over from FY2018, in contravention of Congressional direction.

Census Project co-director Howard Fienberg said, “We applaud Congress for finally providing the necessary funding. Now we must shift to the bigger lift: completing an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census count. Anything less could have a trickle-down impact restraining or harming American business investment and decision-making for the next decade, disrupting the accurate apportionment of electoral districts, and impeding the geographic distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding every year.”

The report accompanying H.R. 1158 specified that it “supports no less than the level of effort for outreach and communications that was utilized in preparation for the 2020 Decennial Census, adjusted for inflation.”

According to Census Project co-director Mary Jo Hoeksema, “the appropriators set the right tone, but it is up to Congressional oversight to ensure that the Census Bureau delivers a robust outreach and communications campaign.”

Texas Preparing for a Complete Count

Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, wrote recently that he is “among many in the business community who are worried the 2020 Census could be highly inaccurate,” especially because “Texas is among several states with a large number of ‘hard-to-count’ populations” – approximately a quarter of the state’s population.

Perez explained that “census results drive growth” for the business community. “They enable business owners to determine where to locate operations based on where their customers are, the likelihood they will be able to hire enough qualified workers and whether a community has the infrastructure to facilitate the delivery of goods or services.”

The San Antonio Chamber has partnered to form a Complete Count Committee. “If we succeed, this time next year you will see census messaging in everything from utility bill statements to social media feeds to church bulletins, and public service and paid advertising. On behalf of businesses and employers and everyone who benefits from a stronger community, I encourage every sector in our community to join us in this outreach to ensure our voices are heard and our residents are counted.”

– “Commentary: Counting on help for accurate census.” By Richard Perez. San Antonio Express News. October 25, 2019.

Evidence mounts regarding respondent confusion about counting young children in the Census

By William P. O’Hare, O’Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC

Demographers have been grappling for an explanation for why young children (age 0 to 4) have such a high net undercount in the U.S. Census. (O’Hare 2015; U.S. Census Bureau 2014:2019). In the 2010 Census, over 2 million young children were missed according to Census Bureau studies with a net undercount of roughly one million (U.S. Census Bureau 2016). The net undercount rate and omissions rate for young children are higher than any other age group.

Several recent studies are providing new answers for why young children are missed so often in the Census. These studies reveal that young children are often missed because a large share of respondents do not think they are supposed to include young children in their census questionnaire.  The evidence to support this idea has grown dramatically in the past few years.

In their qualitative study of 2010 Census respondents Schwede and Terry (2013) indicated many respondents do not believe the Census Bureau (or the federal government) wants children included in the Census count.

In a series of short surveys by the Census Bureau (Nichols et al. 2014a, 2014b, 2014c) respondents were asked, “What information do you think the Census typically collects every 10 years?” and were offered several choices. The percentage who thought the Census Bureau collects “Names of children living at your address” was 7 to 9 percentage points lower than the percentage who thought the Census Bureau collects, “Names of adults living at your address.” While this question asks about names rather than about information on individuals, it suggests that some people think the Census does not request information on children.

In the summer of 2018, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) asked Hispanic respondents with young children if they thought those young children were supposed to be included in the Census. About 15 percent were unsure if young children were supposed to be included in the Census (Vargas 2018).  The high rates at which Hispanic respondents do not believe the Census Bureau wants young children included in the Census may help explain the high net undercount of young Hispanic children. The official data from the 2010 Census shows a net undercount of 7.5 percent of young Hispanic children.

In the summer of 2019, the Count All Kids Campaign commissioned a survey conducted by Lake Research Partners to find out more about why young children were missed in the Census. That survey of low-income parents with young children found that 18 percent of respondents were not sure they were supposed to include young children in the Census (Count All Kids 2019).

In the fall of 2019, Article I, a national civic campaign to promote the 2020 Census, commissioned a survey of several populations, including several Hard-to-Count groups, and asked about whether respondents thought young children were supposed to be included in the Census. In the general population, about a third of the population were unsure if “the census counts all children and/or babies.” For young adults (age 18-34) which is the age group most likely to be parents of young children, 40 percent were unsure if children or babies were supposed to be included in the census. Authors of this study conclude, “Misinformation and a lack of knowledge are standing in the way of everyone being counted in the 2020 census – especially when it comes to young children.”

These studies also show that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to believe the government does not want young children included in the Census. This helps explain why young children in those groups are more likely to be missed in the Census.

This information provides a good indication why young children are missed at such a high rate in the Census. Moreover, it suggests a strong public education campaign is required to get a more complete count of young children in the 2020 Census.  Families need to be told explicitly that young children are supposed to be included in the Census. A vague message about counting everyone is less likely to be effective.