Internet access and hard-to-find addresses could affect Virginia census count, analysis says

(NBC 12)

Almost one million people in Virginia may be difficult to count in the 2020 Census, an analysis from the Center for Urban Research in New York calculated.

Based on response rates to the 2010 census questionnaire, Norfolk, Hampton, Lynchburg, Richmond and Fairfax, Lee, New Kent and Chesterfield counties have the 10 hardest-to-count census tracts.

Response rates to the first mailed questionnaires in 2010 for those localities ranged from 33 percent for a part of Norfolk to 59 percent for a section of Chesterfield County.

CUNY considered any census tract with a response rate less than 73 percent to be hard to count. According to its analysis, 215 of the state’s 1,906 census tracts fell into that category.

Being a hard-to-count tract doesn’t mean people don’t get counted; it just measures how many people required outreach, usually in the form of a representative visiting to get a completed questionnaire.

“These areas and population groups are considered ‘hard to count’ because the Census Bureau sends enumerators into the field to talk with each non-responding household one-by-one,” CUNY researchers wrote.

“This ‘non-response follow-up’ component of the census can be difficult, time-consuming (and) costly (to the Bureau, and to taxpayers). And if these groups and their communities are not counted fairly & accurately, they will be deprived of equal political representation and vital public and private resources.”

Traditionally, people of color, children under five years old, people who rent, single-parent households, immigrants, low-income people, people living in multi-family housing and people with limited English proficiency are hard to count, CUNY’s analysis said.

In its analysis, the center also considered how many people have reliable internet access, since this will be the first census conducted primarily online.

During 2013-17, 16.5 percent of Virginia’s households had either no internet access or dial-up only, according to the latest American Community Survey estimates.

Those are all factors considered by members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s appointed Complete Count Commission, which is working on outreach strategies ahead of the census.

CUNY, though, included another potential issue: 2,903 people did not receive a questionnaire at all because they they live in tracts that did not have “traditional addresses, had large numbers of seasonally vacant housing, or were otherwise rural or sparsely populated,” researchers wrote.

Kelly Thomasson, secretary of the commonwealth, said about a half a percent of Virginians (roughly 45,000 people) went uncounted in the 2010 census. She consulted the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to determine that number.

Getting an accurate count in the upcoming census will help determine Virginia’s share of $675 billion federal dollars, as well how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives the state gets, guides how the state draws legislative districts and determines how many votes Virginia gets in the electoral college.

Northam included $1.5 million in his budget proposal to pay for census outreach. It didn’t make it into the final budget.