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.

2020 Census Funding Increase Needed Urgently

By Jason Jordan, director of policy, American Planning Association

The Census Bureau is the cornerstone of the federal statistical system and the critical data resource for a vast array of local decision making in the public and private sectors. It is a irreplaceable resource. And, it’s in jeopardy.

That was the message delivered by former Census Bureau chief John Thompson in his address at APA’s 2017 Daniel Burnham Forum.

Thompson noted the challenges faced during the 2010 count and he pointed to congressional funding decisions this year and next as vital to a successful 2020 Census. He called on planners and others who depend on a range of census data and products to make a vigorous case for the Census on Capitol Hill.

In an appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross echoed Thompson’s views. Secretary Ross told the committee that the Census is “the bedrock upon which we construct our system of democratic representation.” His testimony highlighted new estimates that the 2020 Census would need $15.6 billion, an increase of $3.3 billion from 2015 estimates.

Funding challenges related to the 2020 count pose problems for other essential Census Bureau projects and products. The same week that Secretary Ross noted the “urgent need” for decennial count funding, the Census Bureau announced that the Economic Census would be delayed by at least six months. The Economic Census provides key data about economic activity and employment. The delay will likely have negative effects later on both companies and local governments who rely on the data.

Similar problems could be in store for other Census activities, including the American Community Survey, as the Census Bureau shifts already strained resources to cover 2020 preparation shortfalls.

Census isn’t alone among federal data agencies when it comes to facing long term funding challenges. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has seen it’s budget fall by 10 percent since 2005. And, in an era when communities and companies are grabbling with major changes associated with ride sharing, safety, and the emergence of autonomous vehicles, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has suffered a 21 percent decline.

At a time when the federal government should be modernizing its data and statistical systems to keep pace with growing demands and a changing “big data” and “smart cities” landscape, these vital agencies look likely to fall further behind.

At the same time Congress underfunds statistical agencies, a congressionally mandated, bipartisan task force has released a new report on “evidence-based policymaking” urging a variety of governmental reforms but also lamenting “insufficient resources and limited flexibility.” Leaders on both sides of the aisle hailed the report but what impact it has on the more challenging work of crafting appropriations bills remains to be seen.

Over the next few months, Congress will wrap up work on current fiscal year spending bills and begin work on next year’s budget framework. National Community Planning Month is the perfect time to urge Congress to provide the funds necessary to ensure that communities have the information and data needed to plan well.

This article was originally posted on the American Planning Association’s website on October 19.

Don’t Underfund the Census, AEI and CBPP Researchers Agree

By Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs and I are together urging Congress to adequately fund the Census Bureau as it prepares for the 2020 census. Although our organizations frequently disagree on policy matters, Andrew and I strongly agree that policymakers and businesses can’t make good decisions without good data, as we explained in a joint letter to key senators and House members.

The funding bills approved in the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee don’t provide enough funds for the Bureau to gear up for the mammoth census operation.  As I’ve written before, both bills provide a fraction of the spending increase that Congress has traditionally made available to the Bureau at this stage of census preparations in past decades.

In shortchanging the Bureau, Congress is following the lead of the Trump Administration, which sharply reduced its 2018 Census budget request relative to what Obama Administration budget documents projected the Bureau would need (see page 62 of this document.)

The stakes are high.

  • Census data — and the myriad surveys that build directly upon those data such as the American Community Survey (ACS) — help businesses and communities decide where to build stores, factories, roads, bridges, homes, and schools, and help policymakers, researchers, and voters assess national and local needs.
  • Census and ACS data help direct where the federal government sends billions of dollars in grants and assistance each year.
  • Shortchanging census preparations now could add to the eventual cost of the census. That’s because the Bureau is planning to save taxpayer dollars using innovative approaches such as online data collection, and databases that can save census takers from knocking on doors of vacant homes. Cutting funds for these innovations could add billions of dollars to taxpayer costs in 2020, the Bureau has estimated.

Our letter reflects our shared concern that the Bureau lacks the funding to conduct an accurate census. As we wrote:

No policy or philosophical outlook is well-served by a lack of accurate data. The alternative to accurate, detailed data on American households is policy-by-anecdote, in which lawmakers respond to perceived needs without data needed to determine how large or widespread a problem might be, where its impacts are most concentrated, and how it may be best addressed. Such a process would spend federal funds neither effectively nor wisely.

For these reasons, we urge you to provide adequate funding for the Census Bureau and the 2020 census.

 

 

This article originally appeared on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website and is reprinted with permission. 

Mapping the Hard-to-Count Populations in the 2020 Census

The mapping team at the Center for Urban Research of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center (cunymapping@gc.cuny.edu, 212-817-2033) developed an interactive map of hard-to-count districts for the 2020 Census. Here are some suggestions for using the map:

  • Search by Congressional district or state legislative district: You can zoom to any district in the country and the map will highlight the hard-to-count tracts within the district and show how much of the district’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods.
  • Identify areas in your state or region where households are particularly at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census: The map shades by color the hardest-to-count tracts in the country, and you can click on any tract (or search by address) to find out important population info, such as:
    • How many households mailed back their census questionnaire in 2010 (therefore how much of the tract may require more costly in-person follow up by the Census Bureau in 2020); and
    • How much of the tract is populated by groups that are at risk of being undercounted, such as children under 5, households with poor Internet access, recent immigrants, and more.
  • Groups can enhance their educational campaigns around the Census Bureaus budget: When you search for a district (or click on the map), the website provides contact info for each congressional and state representative.  If groups reach out to these elected leaders, they can highlight the need to fairly and accurately count the district’s hard-to-count population in their message about budget needs for the 2020 Census.
  • Share the map on social media: You can create a permalink for any spot on the map that you can share on social media, in email campaigns, etc.  Here’s an example: this link displays New York’s 2nd Congressional district, where more than 40% of the district’s residents live in hard-to-count tracts.

The map was created with the help of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Humans Rights and with support from the democracy and civil engagement funding community.

Bringing the Dollars Home

As we noted in previous blog posts, a recent 50-state report by Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University details how federal dollars flowing to state and local governments are guided by census data.

Now local media is picking up the story. A good example is an article in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer listing programs ranging from Medicaid and Medicare to school lunch programs to Head Start, that all depend on census numbers to document the needs of Ohio residents.

2020 Census Funding: This Chart Says It All

A Census at Risk - Spending During Four Census Decades
Chart of census spending through four decades by The Census Project. Census 2020 is at the bottom. Sources: Congressional Research Service, Courtesy Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-NY. Final FY2017 appropriation as passed.  FY2018 level reflects the impact of the short term Continuing Resolution as signed by the President on September 8, 2017 with funding through December 8, 2017.

A Census doesn’t happen all at once. While the Census year itself is the most expensive, the Census Bureau has to ramp up for the big count with a decade-long cycle of spending. We can model that cycle by looking at spending each year relative to each decade’s year 1.

For example, the 1990 Census Cycle began in 1981 with $235.1 million (table A). 1982 saw a drop in spending (1981 had included funds to process and publish 1980 Census results). 1983 to 1986 saw budgets more or less similar to 1982. Beginning in 1987, Census budgets rose significantly in preparation for address canvassing in 1988. The next two years saw steep increases as more Census operations kicked in, ultimately culminating in 1990, with a spend of $1.5 billion, fully 6.49 times the 1981 level (table B).

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(Data corrected in October 2017)

Counting for Dollars

Of course, the first job of the constitutionally-required decennial census is to count and place every resident of this country for purposes of congressional reapportionment and in-state redistricting of legislative bodies.

But, a second critical function of census data is to guide the federal government’s disbursement of nearly $600 billion a year of federal dollars to state/local governments to support such programs as Medicaid, Medicare, highway construction, school lunch programs, public housing and Head Start.

Research Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University authored a new report, “Counting for Dollars,” that underscores the relationship between a fair and accurate census and various state and local government programs.

States have a serious stake in the final FY 2018 census budget battles this fall!