December 18, 2010

Evaluating How Census 2010 Reached Hard-to-Count Groups

The Census Bureau did a better job in 2010 than it had in 2000 reaching out to “hard-to-count” groups, such as minorities and renters, who are more likely to be missed by census-takers than other Americans, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office. The bureau’s outreach included a massive targeted advertising campaign, partnerships with thousands of community organizations, and special counts at institutions such as soup kitchens.

The report, one of three census evaluations released by GAO the week before the Census Bureau is scheduled to publish the first numbers from the 2010 Census, had general praise for the bureau’s outreach efforts (especially the advertising campaign), but noted some faults. It cited a balky and hard-to-use database used by the partnership staff. The report also quoted some census officials who said there was poor coordination between the local offices managing the count in their area and the outreach staff who were assigned to their localities. The Be Counted/Questionnaire Assistance Center program, which provided questionnaires at 38,000 staffed and unstaffed locations, returned and checked in an average of only 20 forms per site, indicating an operation that “was very resource intensive relative to the number of forms that were returned.”

The GAO noted that the Census Bureau is itself evaluating various aspects of its outreach campaign, with results expected in 2012, so the full impact of its efforts is not yet known. But the report stated, “the Bureau’s rigorous effort to raise awareness, encourage participation, and enumerate HTC (hard-to-count) populations likely played a key role in holding mail participation rates steady in 2010 for the overall population, a significant achievement given the various factors that were acting against an acceptable mail response in 2010.”