Advancing Justice | AAJC
Aug 12 · 5 min read

By Steve Romalewski and Raima Roy

Every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau first conducts the count through a process called the Self-Response Phase. The Census Bureau mails information about the decennial questionnaire to almost all households starting in March 2020 and continuing through April. For the 2020 Census, some households will be mailed the actual questionnaire, most households will be mailed a website link to fill out the form online, and everyone will have the opportunity to mail in the form or call-in their responses.

Unfortunately, almost every community will have some households that do not respond on their own. These populations are considered “Hard to Count.” In 2010, in many communities, 25 percent or more of households did not mail in their forms and needed to be counted in person.

This phase is called the Non-Response Follow Up phase. The agency hires enumerators (people who go door-to-door) to count every household that did not respond initially. This process is much more expensive than the self-response phase and costs around $2 billion in 2010, making the self-response phase extremely crucial.

Challenges to Ensuring a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census

· People may not want to self-respond even though the citizenship question not on the form

· People may not want to open the door to a census enumerator during Non-Response Follow Up

· Householders may omit members of households in their response, resulting in an incomplete count

· People may face obstacles in filling out the online form

Challenges to Limited English Proficiency Households

· There are challenges to understanding questions (if self-responding or otherwise)

· There might be a potential language barrier if census enumerators do not speak the householder’s language during Non-Response Follow Up

Our partner, Steve Romalewski at the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research has developed a Hard-to-Count map that will allow for community organizers, advocacy organizations and others to locate where hard-to-count communities exist.

To access the map and its features, go to

How to Use Hard-to-Count Maps

The map allows you to view census data at a state, congressional district, census tract, and county level. It also allows you to enter an address or legislative district if you want to search for a specific area.

Once you enter this information, you can find detailed information on various topics to the left side of the page. In the example shown in the map above, we are searching by county, specifically Alameda County, California. On the left side, it shows the self-response rate in the county from the 2010 Census, with tract data available in Excel and Shapefile formats. On the lower right corner, there is a key displaying a spectrum of mail return rates, with the dark red representing areas with a 0–60 percent mail return rate and white representing an above 73 percent mail-in response rate.

On the key is a button labeled “Map Overlays.” Clicking on this button allows you to map out other factors such as population sizes or where libraries, major roads, and 2020 Area Census Offices are located.

Scrolling down, on the sidebar on the left side, there are buttons for several data sets. You can click on “Internet Access” to see the percentage of people who do not have access to the internet or have dial-up only. When you click “Type of Enumeration,” you can see if people in Alameda County will be receiving a mailing from the Census Bureau with information about how to submit their census form online, on the phone, or using a paper questionnaire.

Clicking “At Risk Populations” will give you data such as “23 percent of Alameda County’s population is Hispanic” and “32 percent of the population is Asian” to give you an insight on minority populations. There is a further drop-down menu labeled “People of Color” with option to press “immigrants” or “people with limited English proficiency” to give you more details on those populations as well.

Lastly, a new addition to the map is the “Census Contacts” button. Here, you can see local organizations that are working on the census and “Get Out the Count” efforts and their contact information.

You can download information in Excel or Shapefile formats. Find this data either in the sidebar on the left or if you press “More Info” at the top left-hand side. Go to the drop-down menu and press “Data,” and download from there.

The drop-down also includes other options such as a “Contact” tab if you have feedback on how to improve the map.

Accessing these data sets are important to our Get Out The Count efforts and ensuring we have a full and accurate count in 2020.

For more resources, go to

Steve Romalewski directs the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research at CUNY’S Graduate Center. Raima Roy is the program associate for census and civic engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

Advancing Justice | AAJC

Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

Advancing Justice | AAJC

Written by

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AAPIs to participate in our democracy. Follow: @johncyangdc @tao_minnis @meganessaheb @kjbagchi

Advancing Justice | AAJC

Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

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