Which neighborhoods’ residents are most at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census? An important clue lies in the rate at which communities did not return their census questionnaires in 2010.
The U.S. Census Bureau, local governments, and community groups are looking at self-response rates during the 2010 Census for hints as to which locations to focus on and how best to persuade residents to participate in next year’s census.
People who don’t answer the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mailing back their forms will cost the federal government more money, because the Census Bureau will have to send workers to count residents in person at those households. And that operation increases the chances residents will be missed or counted incorrectly.
For example, if a household doesn’t answer its census form and then doesn’t answer the door for census workers, workers often turn to landlords or neighbors for their best guess of how many people live at an address.
“Self-response is the most accurate number we’re going to get," Stephanie Reid, executive director of Philly Counts 2020, which is in charge of the city’s census efforts, said this week.
So boosting self-response rates is a priority.
To do that, the bureau is working with community groups and local governments to stress the importance of the census, which determines the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds, the boundaries of voting districts, the share of seats each state gets in the U.S. House, and each state’s number of Electoral College votes in presidential elections.
Residents at most risk of being missed in censuses include children under 5, people living in poverty, renters, those with low rates of internet access, communities of color, and immigrants — groups that have been historically undercounted. Combinations of these factors led to low questionnaire return rates in certain areas of the region in 2010.
Neighborhoods in North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia had the fewest shares of residents who mailed back their 2010 Census forms, according to census data mapped by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research.
In a census tract at the southern tip of West Philadelphia, fewer than half of the roughly 651 households — 46% — mailed in their 2010 Census questionnaires, making it one of the hardest to count in the country. It’s bounded by Baltimore Avenue to the north, the Woodlands mansion and cemetery to the east, and 45th Street, Kingsessing Avenue, and 46th Street to the west.
About 45% of the households live in poverty and about 85% are renters, two groups the Census Bureau has identified as less likely to return their census forms. It’s also an area where many college students live. College students’ presence tends to drive down response rates.
The area includes 46th Street Baptist Church, an example of the types of institutions the Census Bureau is looking to partner with to get people to fill out the forms. Church representatives have said that leadership is more focused on the community’s spiritual needs and is leaving census work to the bureau and the city.
In one North Philadelphia neighborhood, for every household that mailed back its 2010 Census form, a neighbor did not. The community is bordered by Montgomery Avenue to the north, Broad Street to the east, Jefferson Street to the south, and 19th Street to the west. It also includes student housing.
In most areas in the Pennsylvania collar counties, two-thirds or more of households turned in their 2010 Census questionnaires, according to data compiled by CUNY. But at least one area in every county except Bucks had mail-in participation rates of lower than 70%.
In the census tract with the lowest return rate in Delaware County, 57% of households returned their forms. It’s bounded by Garrett Road to the north, Sherbrook Boulevard to the east, East Marshall Road to the south, and Clearbrook Avenue to the west, in Upper Darby.
The southeastern corners of Norristown, Montgomery County, and West Chester, Chester County, had mail-back rates of about 55% and 57%, respectively.
Parts of Coatesville, South Coatesville, and Modena in Chester County had mail-back rates of between 60% and 65%.
In the Morgan Village neighborhood of Camden, less than two-thirds of households mailed back census questionnaires. Nearly all areas of that city had mail-back rates of less than three-quarters — which puts them in the bottom 20% of return rates nationwide, according to the CUNY analysis.
Most of the rest of Camden County had higher response rates — at least 73%, except for the eastern part of Lindenwold, where only about three-fifths of the households returned their forms.