There is no one-size-fits-all approach to census communications. Each community will require its own nuanced plan, and although the online census form is making its debut in 2020, it’s imperative to consider inequities in access to technology and the potential barriers to census completion that this presents. For example, not all Connecticut households have access to the internet—in fact, around 200,000 households still do not have Internet access or have dial-up only. When strategizing about community outreach, it’s important to inform people about how the Census will reach out to them to help different populations complete the form easily and accurately.
Luckily, the Census just released a new product for our outreach toolkit: The Mail Contact Strategies Viewer. The map illustrates how each census tract will receive its invitation to respond to the census. Nearly all (95%) households will receive their census invitation in the mail. Some of these households will receive an invitation with instructions to respond online or by phone, while others will receive the invitation to respond online or by phone along with a paper questionnaire. According to the Census Bureau, areas that will be mailed a questionnaire have “lower self-response rates to the American Community Survey (ACS), and have either: low internet response, higher population age of 65 or more, or low internet subscribership.” The map also shows which households will receive English or Spanish bilingual invitations and questionnaires.
Maps from the U.S. Census Bureau, Mail Contact Strategies Viewer
At first glance, most of Connecticut, like 72.6% of the nation, is highlighted in purple, meaning the Census will send an initial invitation to respond online first. Zooming in to the census tract level provides a more nuanced view of differences among Connecticut neighborhoods. A closer look at Hartford shows green clusters amidst the sea of purple—these are harder to reach areas that will receive both a paper questionnaire and an invitation to fill out the form online. The light green shading represents invitations in English only, while darker green represents bilingual invitations in English and Spanish. Since about 35.6% of households in Hartford don’t have internet access and 35.9% of the population five years and over speak Spanish, the Census will tailor its communications based on the characteristics of each community.
The Mail Contact Strategies Viewer provides detailed, critical insight into Census 2020 outreach. By understanding how households will obtain information about the census, we can align our efforts with the needs of our communities. Although technology is becoming more deeply enmeshed with our everyday lives, not everyone receives information in the same way. Without this lense of accessibility, a complete and accurate count is merely an aspiration. This tool will not only help us identify areas that might require targeted outreach, but it will also define what that outreach will entail.
If you’d like to explore the data from the Mail Contact Strategies Viewer (and we know you do!), you can also download an Excel file that shows the same data at the census tract level. Don’t forget—as Connecticut’s Census State Data Center, the Connecticut Data Collaborative will continue to keep you informed on the latest census news and resources, so make sure to check out our blog, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay connected.