Census 2010’s Hard to Count Outreach Efforts

This is the ninth blog post in an in-depth series exploring the history and future of the US Census. Explore our first post introducing readers to the history of the census and its importance. If you’re interested in other subjects related to the census, check out the list of all our blog posts about it at the end of this post.

What efforts were made to reach HTC populations during the 2010 Census?

The 2010 Census made a concentrated effort to reach HTC populations that were met with various levels of success. Below is a brief summary of the methods the Census Bureau employed to try and close the gap in counting

Combatting Language Barriers

People whose primary language is not English have historically been difficult to count due to language barriers, making it difficult to understand the instructions or purpose of the Census. In 2010 the bureau attempted to combat this by increasing the number of languages spoken by support staff from 35 in the 2000 Census to 145 in the 2010 Census with the hopes of being able to reach anybody regardless of language spoken at home.

Additionally, when advertising for the Census, ads were created in 28 different languages in order to better inform people of the upcoming responsibility. Hard copy forms were also available in 6 different languages, with language assistance guides in 59 languages to help people fill out the form in one of the 6 languages.

Improving Visibility

One of the main reasons that populations can be hard to count is because they simply do not know much about the Census or the obligation they have to fill it out. The 2010 Census made big strides in trying to increase their visibility to these HTC populations.

One big way the Bureau made efforts to increase visibility was with the use of advertising. In addition to running ads in more languages they also made use of more reliable data on HTC populations to better target where the ads should run. On top of this they also made use of new forms of online advertising via podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media in order to reach younger populations.

There was also a strengthened use of monitoring abilities that allowed the Bureau to monitor which areas were receiving low response rates and quickly increase advertising efforts at those locations. This was a significant improvement from past Census efforts that were too slow to respond to low activity effectively.

Increasing Community Engagement

The other big reason that populations can be hard to count is because of a general distrust or disengagement with government. The Census Bureau made a conscience effort to increase community engagement in order to assist in alleviating this distrust during the 2010 Census. One way they achieved this was by expanding the community partnership program by hiring over 400% more staff.

There was a significant push towards community engagement with the Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Program. This program was designed to reach populations that may not have received questionnaires or may have lost theirs. This was achieved by placing forms in community hubs such as community centers, libraries, places of worship etc. These forms were usually in booths in central locations and staffed for roughly 15 hours a week. During this time staff would answer questions, relieve concerns, and assist people in ensuring that they were counted.

The Bureau also attempted to engage with those in non-conventional living arrangements with the use of service based enumeration staff. These staff were strategically positioned to connect with these HTC populations by using previous Census data and recommendations by community leaders to set up in marketplaces, tent encampments, and other outdoor locations known to have concentrations of people without conventional housing.

How Effective was the 2010 Census in Capturing HTC Populations?

After each Census, the Bureau conducts an analysis of how effective the Census was called the Post Enumeration Survey. This survey uses a statistical method known as dual-system estimation (commonly referred to as capture-recapture) to approximate the level of accuracy the Census had. The survey involves taking another population sample shortly after the Census is conducted and comparing it to the results of the Census in order to get an approximation of the Census accuracy.

The 2010 post enumeration survey suggested that the Census overall was quite accurate, with an estimated net over count of 0.1%. This estimate placed the 2010 U.S. Census as one of the most accurate Census’ ever for any country. Just because the overall Census was close to the true population counts, however, does not mean that HTC populations are no longer an issue, in fact many of the HTC populations were still undercounted by significant margins, while other populations such as those who own more than one home were over counted.

The survey estimated that renters were undercounted by 1.1%, African Americans by 2.1%, Hispanics by 1.5%, and Native Americans living on reservations by 4.9%. In general the 2010 Census counted these HTC populations worse than the 2000 Census did despite doing better overall. This shows that cities with large amounts of HTC populations, like Detroit, should increase efforts in preparing for the upcoming 2020 Census.