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The Foundations' role in the 2020 Census.

The Foundation is serving as a convener and information source for an initiative of Yakima County and Central Washington organizations working on an accurate and fair count Yakima Counts!

Critically Important to Yakima County
Yakima County is considered a Hard to Count County. In the 2010 decennial census, 79.2% of Yakima County's households that received a census questionnaire in the mail, mailed back their form. This required more costly and difficult in-person follow up from the Census Bureau to count the remaining 20.8%. In 2020, for the first time, the Census Bureau will be urging most households to submit their census responses online via the Internet. In 2016, 23.0% of Yakima County's households had either no Internet or dial up-only access.  lAmerican Community Survey estimates. (Read more about the importance of Internet access for the 2020 Census.)

Based on the latest census estimates 28% ( or 70,121 people ) of Yakima County's current population live in hard-to-count areas. Without higher self-response, more households in these and other neighborhoods in the county are at risk of being missed in the 2020 census. And if these groups and their communities are not counted fairly & accurately, they will be deprived of equal political representation and vital public and private resources.

Another 15,348 people (~6.2% of Yakima County's current population) live in tracts that did not receive a census questionnaire by mail in 2010 because these areas did not have traditional addresses, had large numbers of seasonally vacant housing, or were otherwise rural or sparsely populated. In the 2010 Census, the net undercount in these tracts was nearly 8%, according to the Census Bureau.

What is "hard to count" and why does it matter?
The goal of the decennial census is to count each person in the United States based on their residence as of April 1. For the 2020 census, each household in the U.S. will either receive mailed instructions on how to fill out the census questionnaire online, or they will receive the actual questionnaire. The Census Bureau asks that as many households as possible submit their responses to this questionnaire via the Internet or by mail — this is the self-response component of the decennial census.

In prior censuses, the self-response rate in many parts of the country has been relatively high. But in other parts of the country and for some population groups more than others, the self-response rate has been relatively low. Households may not have submitted their census questionnaire for various reasons, such as having language difficulties, concerns about trusting their privacy to the government, or otherwise.

These areas and population groups are considered "hard to count", because the Census Bureau sends enumerators (individuals paid by the Census Bureau) to talk with each non-responding household one-by-one. This "non-response follow-up" component of the census can be difficult, time-consuming, & costly.

Defining hard-to-count (HTC)
For the purpose of this map, a census tract is considered hard-to-count (HTC) if its self-response rate in the 2010 decennial census was 73% or less. If 73% or fewer of the tract's households that received a census questionnaire mailed it back to the Census Bureau, it is shaded in light orange-to-dark red as a hard-to-count tract on the map.

This measure of self-response for the 2010 census is called the 
mail return rate [PDF]. It represents the percent of occupied housing units only whose residents answered the census in the self-response stage of the count.

The 73% mail return rate threshold is used because it represents all tracts nationwide that are in the bottom 20 percent of 2010 mail return rates — i.e., the worst 20% of return rates. This is consistent with the definition of hard-to-count tracts from the 2010 census outreach campaign.

Some tracts do not have mail return rates. During the 2010 census, households in approximately 400 tracts did not receive a census questionnaire. Instead, these households were counted by the Census Bureau using solely in-person enumeration as part of the 
Update/Enumerate [PDF] program. These tracts were either very rural, did not have traditional street addresses, or both (often located on Tribal Lands, or in rural parts of Alaska or Wisconsin, and in some vacation areas with high seasonal vacancies). Although they do not have mail return rates, these tracts nonetheless are considered hard-to-count because of the cost & difficulty of in-person enumeration.

Other HTC metrics
Other ways of identifying and describing hard-to-count populations include:

Response Scores

  • The Census Bureau has developed a statistical model that uses population data to assign a "low response score" to each tract. The Bureau states that these scores "predict low census mail return rates and are highly correlated (negatively) with census and survey participation." This statistical model explains only 55% of the variation around the predicted response rate. The Bureau will be refining this statistical model leading up to the 2020 Census using more recent demographic data. As its predictive power improves, we may incorporate these scores into the Census 2020 Hard to Count (HTC) map.
  • Population groups with increased risk of being undercounted

Historically, the census has undercounted young children, people of color, rural residents, & low-income households at higher rates than other population groups. Also, groups with low self-response rates in prior censuses or census tests include "linguistically isolated" households; frequent movers; foreign born residents; households below the poverty line; large (i.e. overcrowded) households; low educational attainment households; & single-parent headed households. And people who distrust government authorities and/or have been or could be targets of law enforcement or heightened surveillance may be less likely to respond to the census. In the Census 2020 HTC application, statistics on these groups for each tract are presented when a tract is selected on the map.

Households with no computer or inadequate Internet access

  • The Census Bureau plans to encourage most households to answer their 2020 census questionnaire via the Internet. As a result, households with poor Internet connectivity or, worse, no computer will be at risk of being undercounted. The Census 2020 HTC map application highlights tract-level household Internet access based on data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Other Information

For more information on this initiative please contact Luis Gomez at luisg@yakimavalleycf.org


111 University Parkway, Suite 102
Yakima, WA 98901


Phone: 509-457-7616
Fax: 509-457-7625
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