Why Hawai'i isn't really 99.9% complete for the Census

By Jackalyn Carione

The 2020 Census data collection is currently set to end on October 31st, which means there are just a few weeks to make sure we count all our keiki in Hawaiʻi. The Census is essential to our community because it helps determine how much federal funding the state of Hawaiʻi will receive in the next decade, which is especially important for programs that support our children and families.

As of October 9th, only 62.9% of Hawaiʻi residents have responded to the Census, which ranks us 37th in the nation. However, the Census Bureau says that 99.9% of Hawaiʻi households have been counted, or “enumerated.” What is the difference, and why does it matter?

When a household doesn’t fill out the Census, the Bureau sends staff members, called “enumerators,” who try to reach out directly through a program called the Nonresponse Follow-Up Operation. Although it’s important for the Census to try to count every person, this operation produces results that are not as reliable as self-responses, and even less so this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total enumerated percentage includes all of the households reached through this operation. However, this additional data is twice as likely to miss people in a household than self-responses, which contributes to an undercount in the Census. Some reasons for this are:

  • Households that don’t respond on their own tend to be harder to reach and more reluctant to participate. Household members may not include everyone because of fear their information will be used against them by their landlord, law enforcement, or immigration officials. Among households that enumerators visit but still can’t reach, the Census Bureau estimates that only 10% will respond.
  • If an enumerator verifies that a household was vacant on April 1st, the enumerator only needs to visit one other time before the household is “counted.” An estimated 6.2 million households will be enumerated this way, and their data will be filled in “using a compilation of federal administrative records and data collected in other Bureau surveys.” This can lead to an undercount because sometimes there are living quarters in the other areas of a property and a rushed verification process can cause enumerators to miss occupied units.
  • The records used instead can leave out groups that are typically undercounted, like children and young adult men of color.
  • After an enumerator visits a household three times and still can’t reach them, they may go to a “proxy,” who is usually a neighbor or landlord, to collect information on the household. Proxies were used for 22% of households in the 2010 Census and 7% contained wrong information.

Besides the Nonresponse Follow-Up operation, the Census Bureau has other programs to try to count everyone, including people in group quarters (college dorms, prisons, nursing homes, and military barracks), people experiencing homelessness, and people living in “transitory locations (RV parks, hotels/motels, carnivals/circuses, marinas, etc). However, these programs also tend to count people twice, miss people and not collect accurate information on demographics.

With this information, we know that the “99.9% enumerated” figure in Hawaiʻi is not a good representation of how many households are accurately counted. If the 2020 Census severely undercounts the amount of people in every state, there will be serious consequences. States could receive inadequate funding for roads, bridges and public transportation, and some are at risk for losing representatives in Congress.

Our keiki will face some of the biggest consequences through less funding for schools and programs that support healthcare, food, and education. Children are among the most undercounted group in the Census, especially Latino and Black children. The loss of funding for these programs could negatively affect children for the next decade.

When looking at Census reporting, it is important to focus on the self-response percentage, since that represents the most accurate information. In that case, Hawaiʻi still needs 30.1% of households to respond to the 2020 Census so that our state can get the funding we need to ensure our families and keiki can thrive in the next decade.

If you have not responded to the Census yet, please respond here. For shareable graphics and to find out what Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network is doing to help count all keiki in the 2020 Census, visit our page.

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