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Defining the Hard-to-Count Population

Given the breadth of influence that the census has, it’s critical that the results be as accurate as possible. It’s clear from past years, however, that some people are simply “harder-to-count” than others. It’s estimated that in the 2010 data, renters, racial minorities and children were vastly undercounted relative to homeowners and the non-Hispanic white population, who were overcounted. Also included in the hard-to-count population are non-English speakers, low-income individuals, undocumented immigrants, LGBQT people, and people with mental or physical disabilities. Each of these people fall into the framework of being hard to contact, hard to locate, hard to interview or hard to persuade.

(Figure 2:  Framework for recognizing Hard-To-Count populations by the Census Bureau)

Furthermore, many of these people also have the most to lose if they are undercounted: The “hard-to-count” largely make up the populations who rely on social welfare programs that are allocated funding based on census data, are the most at-risk if state and local planning initiatives (such as where to build hospitals or schools) are made on the basis of faulty data, and are already vastly underrepresented in the political sphere. Each of these challenges stand to be exacerbated due to being undercounted.

To that end, the 2020 effort will build on lessons learned from 2010 by including a number of innovations to the approach, such as new, cost-effective ways to verify addresses and a robust network of community partners to help drive positive response rates.

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