Census Legal Fights

FILE - This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)

If many people don’t participate in the census, the data will be far less accurate. And rural people are less likely to take part.

In 2010, an average 73% of households returned the mailed version of the form. My analysis of mail response rates by the rural-urban continuum codes showed an average of 68% for non-metropolitan counties, compared with 75% for metropolitan counties.

Analysts have been trying to better understand why some populations are harder to count. There are numerous barriers to participation in decennial censuses. Many people have limited knowledge about the census. Others distrust the government and are concerned about the confidentiality of their information.

Although rural America tends to do better on some indicators used to predict potential census participation, people who live in poverty and are isolated may be at a particular disadvantage.

In 2020, for the first time, the census will offer an avenue for online participation, with the hope this will make it easier for people to complete the questionnaire more efficiently. This is promising, but some rural places have limited access to broadband internet service.

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