April 9, 2010

Census Participation Patterns Vary Among Large Cities

A new analysis of 2010 Census participation rates so far has found wide variation from one city to the next in the degree to which race and ethnic characteristics predict response rates.

Nationally, the analysis by the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center found a consistent association between an area’s race and Hispanic makeup and its response rate so far. But in looking closely at the nation’s 67 largest cities, the analysis found many local exceptions to nationwide patterns.

For example, neighborhoods where a high share of the population is black tend to have below-average shares of households that have mailed back their census forms. That is even more likely in St. Louis and Boston, the analysis found, but the association is relatively weak in Houston and Atlanta, among others. Neighborhoods that are heavily white have above-average participation rates nationally, but in Honolulu, white neighborhoods have lower participation rates.

Nationally, areas with high Hispanic populations have had below-average response rates so far. But in Miami, Newark and New York, three cities with substantial Latino populations, “greater Hispanic populations tended to increase participation rates” at the census-tract, or neighborhood, level, the analysis concludes.

The analysis also includes some discussion of response patterns in neighborhoods with large numbers of Asian-Americans, although the discussion was limited because relatively few cities have large Asian-American populations.

The analysis was undertaken to help the Census Bureau, local governments and partner organizations target their efforts to encourage people to return their forms. The latest national mail participation rate is 65%. The final rate in 2000 was 72%.

The findings are based on neighborhood-level demographic data from the 2000 Census, so they “may not be as reliable in local communities whose racial and ethnic (Hispanic) composition has changed substantially since 2000,” the analysis notes.