A significant portion of Americans said they may not participate in next year’s census, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Friday that has implications for the 2020 count’s cost, as well as its uses for redistricting and distribution of federal funds.
More than one in five younger adults, those making less than $30,000 and those identifying as black said they definitely will not, probably will not or might not participate in the census, according to the Pew report. Its results reflect similar outcomes to surveys conducted before and during the 2010 census, said one of the authors of the report, D’Vera Cohn.
In the new survey, “those groups that were hardest to count were less likely to be on board with the census,” Cohn said.
Across all demographic groups, younger Americans — those under 30 — were less likely to say they would respond to the census. Cohn noted that younger adults were “much more likely to express some uncertainty about their willingness to participate” in the census and “most likely did not” participate in 2010, based on their age.
Pew’s survey, which was conducted online as part of the organization’s American Trends Panel between Sept. 16-29, also found that almost every respondent had heard of the census. Most said they planned to participate and more than half said they had heard about the count within the last month.
Next year, the federal government will likely spend upwards of $6 billion on the census. That’s after a decade-long ramp-up that involved an estimated $5 billion invested in technology to add an online response option and other innovations.
The cheapest part of next year’s count will be the self-response, and the Census Bureau counts on about 60 percent of all households in the country doing so next year. Capturing that remaining 40 percent involves about half a million enumeration staff blanketing the country. Those workers will be assisted this cycle by more technology than ever before and a network of local government and non-profit groups.
Missing people in the census, referred to as undercounts, could throw off the apportionment of congressional seats, distribution of more than $800 billion in federal funds annually, and decisions made by businesses and health care providers.
A Census Bureau estimate following the 2010 count showed the combination of undercounts and overcounts — where Americans are counted twice — lined up to within one percent of the American population. The same survey also estimated that enumeration missed millions of Americans who identified as nonwhite or Hispanic, immigrants and those who rent rather than own their homes.
A June report by the Census Bureau described nearly a quarter of Americans as “wary skeptics” or “disconnected doubters” of the census, groups who distrust the federal government and are less likely than others to be convinced to respond through explanation of its impacts on their communities.