We’ve been traveling across the state to talk Census 2020! On April 30th, CTData’s Executive Director Michelle Riordan-Nold presented at the U.S. Census 2020 Library Kickoff at the Connecticut Library Association Conference in Mystic. Ms. Riordan-Nold was also joined by Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Census Bureau Regional Director Jeff Behler, and Census Data Dissemination Specialist Ana Maria Garcia.

With Census 2020 on the horizon, Riordan-Nold discussed potential census challenges—new and old. This will be the first census that people can complete online, and while this will create new opportunities for participation, Ms. Riordan-Nold reminded the audience that not all households have Internet access. According to the 2017 U.S Census American Community Survey 5-year estimates, fifteen percent of households had either no Internet subscriptions (~200,000 households) or dial-up only access (~6,700). The cities of Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury, New Haven, New London, Norwich, and Bridgeport had the highest percentage of Connecticut households with no Internet or dial-up only. North Canaan, Plainfield, Ansonia, Putnam, Derby, Winchester, and Killingly all topped the list for suburban/rural towns.

Data from 2013-2017 U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year estimates
Map from Connecticut Data Collaborative

An additional concern is that, in some cases, households that have limited or no Internet access are also considered hard-to-count (HTC) communities. An HTC community is defined as an area where the initial self-response rate in Census 2010 was seventy-three percent or less.

Data from 2013-2017 U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year estimates
Map from Connecticut Data Collaborative

Twenty-two percent of Connecticut’s population live in HTC neighborhoods and are dispersed across twenty-nine towns including Ansonia, Shelton, Mansfield, Torrington, Westport, Groton, and New London (click here to see the full list). In fact, thirty-four of the thirty-eight census tracts in Bridgeport were considered HTC, as were thirty-six of the forty census tracts in Hartford.

Map from Census 2020 Hard to Count Map, CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center

To improve outreach to HTC communities, we must understand who they’re made up of. Ms. Riordan-Nold noted that HTC populations include all members of communities of color, children under the age of five, those who are foreign-born or with limited English proficiency, people who rent, crowded households, and multifamily, single, and low-income households. Ms. Riordan-Nold also stressed the importance of student participation. For example, in Mansfield’s census tract 8812, home to the University of Connecticut, only fifty-two percent of households mailed back their survey.

Just in case you needed a little refresher of how important the census is, census data has a major impact on funding. It defines eligibility criteria, computes formulas, ranks project applications, and sets interest rates. Fifty-five federal assistance programs base funding on the decennial count; six rural federal assistance programs rely on census data to determine funding for programs such as housing loans, rural rental assistance, and water and waste disposal for rural communities.

Now that we’ve identified the problems, let’s talk solutions. The census needs people who are committed to their communities and understand their neighborhoods’ needs. The first step you can take to make a difference in your community is to join your local complete count committee (CCC). Complete count committees promote the importance of the census, especially in hard-to-count communities. CCCs are made up of political and community leaders from various sectors. Since these leaders are viewed as a trusted source, they can encourage participation by emphasizing how crucial the census is to the programs that serve our residents, as well as determining political representation to lift our voices. As we work together to plan for the upcoming decennial count, we recognize that only through the power of collaboration can we ensure that everyone is “counted once, only once and in the right place.”