Report Discusses Arizona’s Hard-to-Count Population in Census 2020

Feb. 25, 2020

A new report by a University of Arizona researcher addresses Arizona's "hard-to-count" population and what it could mean for the state in the 2020 U.S. census.

The report, titled “Toward an Accurate Census: Estimates of Arizona’s Hard-to-Count Population in Census 2020,” is available on the Census 20/20 website at Census2020now.org. It is written by Jason Jurjevich, an associate professor of practice in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona.

Arizona is traditionally a state with a high hard-to-count, or HTC, population. In the 2010 census, only 77.6% of Arizona households mailed back their census form, ranking Arizona’s census participation at 38th across the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Using past census household non-participation rates as a proxy for the HTC population, Jurjevich's report provides detailed range estimates of Arizona’s 2020 census HTC population, by county, under three scenarios. Assuming no change from the state's 2010 census participation rate, there could be 1,604,700 HTC Arizonans in the 2020 census. A significant decline in 2020 census participation means there could be as many as 1,845,400 HTC Arizonans.   

The impact of a census undercount can affect everything from Arizona’s political representation in Washington, D.C., to the flow of federal dollars to Arizona to fund social service programs, transportation infrastructure projects and the state’s three universities, among other areas.

Undercount Could Cost Arizonans

For decades, a significant limitation of conducting the decennial census is that it has often excluded certain individuals, yielding an undercount. Individuals at risk of not being counted in the census are referred to as “hard-to-count” populations. These individuals include young children, individuals of color, non-English speakers, rural residents, immigrants, non-citizens, low-income persons, renters, the homeless and others.

In 2016, Arizona received more than $20.5 billion in federal funding that was guided by 2010 census data – roughly $3,000 per Arizonan. This means that an undercount of Arizonans – more likely among HTC populations – could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding over the next decade.

Numerous challenges – the proposed citizenship question, increasing public distrust in government, insufficient advertising about the census, and other factors – could make it more difficult to count Arizonans in the 2020 census.

Estimates of Arizona’s HTC populations, especially at the community level, are helpful for supporting community-led targeted outreach that leverages the strength of trusted community voices to ensure a fair and accurate count in 2020. The report also includes possible next steps for helping ensure an accurate census in Arizona.

About Jason Jurjevich

Jurjevich, who joined UArizona School of Geography and Development in 2020, is a broadly trained population geographer focusing on the sociospatial implications of demographic change. Jurjevich is the director of the Census 20/20 Project, which provides data, tools and resources to foster community preparedness and inspire individual action to support a fair and accurate census in 2020. Jurjevich was previously the director of the Population Research Center at Portland State University.