Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Residents of Rural Areas Can Be Hard to Count

The rural population has been shrinking since 2010. This makes it all the more important that the 2020 census counts every rural resident. Areas with shrinking populations not only lose political representation, but also funding for important programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and housing assistance. Getting a complete count in rural areas will be difficult, reports demographer William O'Hare, a visiting fellow at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. His research brief for the Institute details the difficulties of counting rural populations.

A good place to start exploring the problems likely to be encountered by the 2020 census is to examine what happened in the 2010 census, says O'Hare. He takes a look at hard-to-count counties in 2010 to determine how many were rural (defined in his study as nonmetropolitan) and also their characteristics. In total, there were 316 hard-to-count counties in the U.S. in 2010, defined as those with a mail return rate of less than 73 percent. Of the 316 counties, fully 251 (79 percent) were rural. About one-quarter of the hard-to-count areas were rural minority-majority counties, where Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or American Indians were the majority of the population: 34 were majority Black counties, including 16 in Mississippi; 37 were majority Hispanic counties, including 20 in Texas; 12 were majority American Indian/Alaskan Native; and 1 was majority Asian. Other hard-to-count rural areas are in Appalachia and in the Southwest, home to many migrant/seasonal farm workers.

To further complicate matters, the 2020 census will be the first to rely primarily on responses via the internet. But a substantial 21 percent of households in rural areas do not have internet access and will have the option to answer by mail, further complicating the process. With all of these issues, "It is important that rural scholars, rural leaders, and rural advocates monitor Census Bureau funding and Census planning over the next two years to make sure there are adequate resources for a complete and accurate count of all rural residents," O'Hare concludes.

Source: Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire, 2020 Census Faces Challenges in Rural America

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