2020 Census: What’s at Stake When Historically Undercounted Groups Aren’t Included?

Census 2020

Reaching people who are historically undercounted — such as multicultural groups, children, renters, and those who are young and mobile (ages 18-24) is one of the most important 2020 Census goals in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

Since the beginning of the year, the Census Bureau has been conducting a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign for television, radio, online, and print, as well as placing large ads in public spaces like billboards and bus stops. Designed in 45 languages, a significant portion of that advertising is targeted to multicultural and hard-to-count audiences.

Recently, hundreds of thousands of census takers began knocking on doors nationwide to count people who have not yet responded on their own. English-speaking census takers, many of them bi-lingual, are hired from local communities. They have material available to help identify a household’s language.  In addition, if a census taker does not speak the householder’s language, the household may request a return visit from a census taker who does.

The agency also continues to work with more than 300,000 national and local partners, providing language support in more than 50 languages to educate communities about the importance of the Census and to motivate people to respond.

The hope is that with these and other strategies, populations that are normally hard to count will get counted in the 2020 Census.

In Cleveland, current response rates highlight how challenging this task can be. Data insights for Cleveland and surrounding neighborhoods in Cuyahoga County indicate that neighborhoods that have more than 30% Black/African American households have response rates that are lower than neighborhoods with 50% or more white households (47.6% to 72.8%). 

Households occupied by renters in Cuyahoga County are less likely to respond to the 2020 Census compared to households that are occupied by owners.

In general, Cleveland’s response rate (47.9%) lags behind other cities in Ohio such as Columbus (58.2%), Cincinnati (52.1%) and Toledo (55.7%). It also lags behind the state rate (67.8% ) and the national rate (63.6%).

The Census Bureau can not  identify one single cause for an historic undercount of some populations, so there is no single solution.  In general, though, the more complex a household is, the greater the risk that a person in that household won’t be included on the 2020 Census questionnaire.

Populations that are hard to locate or hard to contact, such as those experiencing homelessness, are also among the hard to count populations. Once accessed, populations may be reluctant to participate in enumeration or hard to interview. Moreover, enumeration itself may be hindered by some barrier (for instance, lack of a shared language, low literacy, or some form of disability). Confusion, fear about confidentiality of responses, and misunderstanding about who should be counted at an address also contribute to an undercount.

When people aren’t counted, communities can lose out on billions of dollars in federal funding for critical public services like schools and education programs, hospitals and healthcare, transportation funding for public transportation and roads and bridges, and emergency response.

The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding flow into communities every year for the next decade. That funding shapes many different aspects of every community, no matter the size, no matter the location.

Think of your morning commute. Census results influence highway planning and construction, as well as grants for buses, subways, and other public transit systems.

Or think of your local schools. Census results affect planning and funding for education—including programs such as Head Start, Pell Grants, school lunches, rural education, adult education, and grants for preschool special education.

Census results also affect planning and funding for healthcare—including programs such as Medicaid, Medicare Part B, State Children’s Health Insurance, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

The list goes on, including programs to support rural areas, to restore wildlife, to prevent child abuse, and to provide housing assistance for older adults.

Another significant aspect of responses to the 2020 Census is that they determine how many seats a state may gain or lose in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as how political district lines are drawn.

If you haven’t responded to the 2020 Census, it’s not too late. You can respond  online, by phone in English at 844-330-2020, or by mail. When people respond on their own, it’s less likely that a census taker will need to visit to help ensure they are counted.

Learn more and respond today at 2020census.gov

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