The 2020 Census is nearing its end—and apparently earlier than expected. NPR first reported that the U.S. Census Bureau plans to end the door-to-door count at the end of September rather than at the end of October. Subsequent media reports have added that the decision came at the direction of U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
What will this decision mean for Alabama?
It likely means an inaccurate count.
As of 2 PM CST, Tuesday, August 4, Alabama, has a Census self-response rate of 60.7%.
In the years leading up to the Census, the Bureau physically maps addresses, creating a count of households. The percentage of these households that complete the Census form online, by mail, or by phone is called the self-response rate, so sometimes the initial response rate. Households that do not respond to this initial request receive additional requests and, ultimately, a visit from a Census worker.
Tracking the self-response rate is a good measure of the effectiveness of Census promotion efforts and helps the Census Bureau adjust strategies. The self-response rate does NOT indicate the total percentage of households counted. However, the higher the self-response rate, the more accurate the final count.
The good news?
Alabama trails only Tennessee (62.4%) in the Southeast.
The bad news?
Alabama is 30th in the nation. Alabama trails the national average of 63.1%.
Alabama trails its 2010 initial response rate of 62.5%
To match our 2010 response rate, Alabama must increase its response rate by 1.8 percentage points. For comparison, it took the state 56 days (from June 10 to August 4) to add 1.8 percentage points. If that trend continues, Alabama might reach its 2010 response rate on October 1, after the new-end date of September 30, but clearly before the original end date of October 31.
Top 10 Alabama County and City Response Rates, as of August 3
|Top 10 Counties||Top 10 Cities|
|Shelby (74.9%) |
St. Clair (66.7%)
|Indian Springs (85.9%) |
Mountain Brook (82.9%)
Lake View (80.3%)
Vestavia Hills (79.4%)
Even if Alabama reaches its 2010 initial response rate of 62.5%, that means as many as 37.5% of households must be contacted by other means, including by a Census worker knocking on the door, to ensure every household is counted. Reducing the time for this contact will inevitably mean people are not counted—in Alabama and every state.
Traditionally, populations likely to be under-counted are Blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, college students, and renters—all populations which are important to Alabama—and critical to some cities and towns.
While much of the Census promotion concentrates on Congressional representation and federal funding, it is important to note a critical consequence of an under-count.
People may not be counted in Alabama, but they still live here. They require services and use infrastructure, all with potentially less federal, state, and even philanthropic funds. Census data is critical to decisions of funders at all levels, public and private.
Likewise, communities desire new amenities, businesses, and services to enhance the quality of life and the economic base. Decisions to relocate or expand businesses are informed, in part, by Census data. Incomplete data can underestimate market demand and workforce potential.
An incomplete count will have long-lasting ramifications for the entire state.
The map below, provided by the Census Bureau, reports self-response rates by state, congressional district, county, city, and census tract.
Explore state and local data here.
For more on the 2020 Census, see The 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for the State of Alabama published by PARCA last fall.