Mapping the Count

Mapping the Count

Map of Tracts - Language and Contact Type

The Center for Urban Research at CUNY's Graduate Center has an important new tool available online to help New Yorkers gear up for the 2020 Census: the Hard to Count Map.

Why is it so important? The map has detailed information on every census tract (small geographic regions defined by the census) in the entire country, including:

  • Self-response rate in 2010
  • A projection of anticipated self-response in 2020
  • What type of mailing the Census Bureau will send them (online invitation or paper form)
  • The language in which households will receive mailings
  • Internet access across the tract
  • Local at-risk populations (such as children under 5)
  • Local organizations conducting outreach
  • Number of households that are renters
  • & more!

And the map was just updated to highlight how the Census Bureau will be contacting households to invite them to participate in the 2020 Census this spring!

With the Hard to Count map, we're building better strategies for reaching communities in every tract, determining priorities, working around the challenges, and planning on bringing the right kinds of support & outreach to each neighborhood.

So where did the idea come from, how can average New Yorkers use it, and what does it tell us about how New York is facing up for the challenge of 2020? We spoke to Steven Romalewski, Director of CUNY's Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research to find out!

But first, some background. What makes an area "hard to count," anyway?

Romalewski explains, the term "is a function of how the Census Bureau counts us every 10 years." That is, the census asks households to submit their own responses (this is called self-response) — otherwise, the Census Bureau has to send census takers to the household to try to collect the information in person. For this map, a tract is considered hard to count if it had a self-response rate of 73% or lower. This is because the 73% figure "represents all tracts nationwide that are in the bottom 20 percent of 2010 mail return rates — i.e., the worst 20% of return rates."

As for the map itself, it turns out that the 2020 Census Hard to Count map is actually a new version "of a similar effort [CUNY] launched for the 2010 Census." CUNY was asked by philanthropic foundations and civil rights organizations to put together an interactive map that would help them "prioritize their outreach and develop messaging specific to local populations urging people to participate in the census." And it was so popular and effective, the groups asked for another one leading up to 2020, which Romalewski's team launched in October 2017 in collaboration with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The great thing about it is that the map "provides both a bird's-eye view of how hard-to-count New York City will likely be during the 2020 Census, as well as neighborhood-level details that census stakeholders can use for their local 2020 outreach."

In fact, you can look up your own census tract on the map and find out what kind of mailing your household will receive - whether you get the invitation to participate online or the paper form option, and what language(s) it will come in.

But Romalewski says New Yorkers can even take it a step further:


"The HTC 2020 map can help inspire New Yorkers to fill out their census forms," and "individuals can [also] use the map to learn about census challenges in their community and help educate their families and neighbors." Inspired by the map? Join your local NOCC (Neighborhood Organizing Census Commitee).


If you're part of an organization involved in census outreach, you "can use the map to plan their 'Get Out the Count' campaigns and prioritize which neighborhoods to focus on."


Journalists "can learn about hard-to-count census challenges across the city and inform their reporting on the 2020 Census."


And government officials at every level can use the map to "understand the census challenges in their districts and focus their education and outreach work accordingly."

Above all, the map offers lessons about "what can happen when a local community is well-organized and works closely with residents to urge them to participate in the census." While neighborhoods like Inwood and Washington Heights have the characteristics that would usually be considered hard-to-count - renters, immigrants, low English proficiency, limited incomes - these census tracts actually had some of the highest self-response rates in the whole city! It's a testament to what New Yorkers are capable of when we organize. And with tools like the Hard to Count Map, the sky's the limit.

Check out the map for yourself to learn about your community before the 2020 Census arrives!