The 2020 Census and The Importance of the Hard-to-Count Population

By Robert Stickles

Every decade, when an updated version of the U.S. Census is published, questions regarding the accuracy of the information arise – and for good reason. The U.S. Census Bureau has the monumental, overwhelming task of counting every person in the United States and recording basic information such as race, sex, and age. But how can the Bureau accomplish this without making any errors? Well, it is almost impossible to collect perfect data without any mistakes, especially because many populations throughout the country are considered “Hard-to-Count.”

According to the Census Bureau, the groups that are especially difficult to gather data for are racial/ethnic minorities, linguistic minorities, lower income persons, homeless persons, undocumented immigrants, young mobile persons, and children. The government reported that in 2010 alone, the U.S. Census missed more than 1.5 million minorities nationwide after experiencing difficulty in counting black Americans, Hispanics, renters and young men. On the other hand, it was also reported that parts of the U.S. population had been over-counted, largely due to duplicate counts of affluent whites owning more than one home.

So, why is it crucial for U.S. Census to collect accurate data? To examine this topic, it is important to understand what the Census is used for. For the most part, the U.S. Census is used for population and demographic information. Population counts plays a large role in the way the government is run, as the correct population figures ensure that every community is given full representation in the halls of government. On top of that, the Census also assists in making the decisions regarding the distribution of public funds when it comes to educational programs, healthcare, law enforcement, and highways. If up-to-date population data are not available, areas of the country might not get their fair share of state Representatives or public funds.

The Hard-To-Count Hot Spots in Massachusetts and Greater Boston

Source: The Census 2020 HTC Map developed by the CUNY Mapping Service at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

In Massachusetts, many of the hard-to-count populations appear to be located in or around the larger cities such as Boston, Worcester, New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton, and Brockton. Boston, the largest city in Massachusetts, faces the largest challenge in obtaining data for every person. In 2010, there were many tracts in Boston where fewer than 60 percent of households mailed back their 2010 Census questionnaire.

For Massachusetts, this means that anywhere that there is a large population of “Hard-to-Count” individuals, entire communities may not get the funding or the political representation that they need to fairly serve and provide for their citizens.

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