The goal of the decennial census is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place. However, the Census Bureau has historically overcounted certain groups—including white people—while undercounting others—including people of color, young children, and people experiencing homelessness. These gaps undermine the fairness of the census and contribute to an inequitable distribution of political power and federal resources for programs that support economic security, health, and education. This working paper examines the self-response rates to the 2020 Census by various socio-economic, demographic, and housing characteristics in order to gain timely insights into the potential accuracy of the 2020 Census. The paper finds that the 2020 Census likely will contain similar inaccuracies seen in past censuses.
It is perhaps more important today than ever for stakeholders to understand the key approaches and methods for measuring the accuracy of the decennial census. The 2020 Census faces extraordinary challenges that will impact its fairness and accuracy. The likely consequences may skew political representation and the allocation of federal funds for the next decade and affect an array of other crucial uses of census data. To help stakeholders better engage in public discussions of census accuracy and related actions, this preliminary report introduces measures and methods for evaluating census accuracy, assesses their relative strengths and weaknesses, and provides key historical context needed for interpreting the results of the census.
This report shares an analysis of data nonresponse to the citizenship question on the American Community Survey. Nonresponse rates vary by demographic group, but have been rising over time–showing an increased sensitivity to the question. It is expected that the nonresponse rate to the citizenship question on the 2020 Census will be even higher that the 6% nonresponse rate to the question on the ACS, and that the question will make the census more expensive and it’s results less accurate.