Thanks to the Household Pulse Survey, an ongoing effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to chart the pandemic’s social and economic effects on American households, we can track how the first phase of the crisis impacted the household employment income of Arkansans.

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Image 1 compares the percentage of females and males who have reported losses in household employment income with the state’s total adult population. Nearly forty percent (39.6%) of adult women reported losing income compared with (48.3%) of adult males who saw their income shrink.

While these percentages appear consistent with the total number of Arkansas adults (43.8%) who suffered employment income loss, the almost 9% difference between males and females is harder to explain. The discrepancy could be attributable to more women working in essential jobs or employed in positions more easily transferable to ‘work from home models.’

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Image 2 charts the percentage of household employment income loss among different Arkansas racial and ethnic groups. Whites suffered income loss comparable to the state as a whole. By contrast, losses reported by Blacks and Hispanics were significantly higher than the state average.

This disparity could reflect higher numbers in both groups working in businesses that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. According to data from the 2019 American Community Survey, about 50% of Arkansan’s Hispanic population works in service, production, transportation, or material moving industries vulnerable to temporary or permanent closures during the pandemic.

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Image 3 examines the loss of household employment income among Arkansans with differing levels of education. Residents in the ‘some college’ and ‘high school or less’ categories report a similar proportion of lost income, about 3 or 4 percentage points above the state average. This result comes as no surprise since the two groups combined comprise over half the state’s working population.

While the proportion of residents who lack a college degree and reported employment income losses approaches 50 percent, only a third of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher reported a loss. This significant gap demonstrates that residents with lower educational attainment levels are more exposed to the economic dislocation triggered by the pandemic.

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Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau announced that the deadline for finishing the 2020 Census Operations, delayed initially to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, will be rescheduled from October 31 to September 30. This sudden change has forced the Bureau to re-plan, shorten, and cancel some of its scheduled operations.

Time allotted to the Non-Response Follow Up (NRFU) project, which sends census takers to housing units that failed to respond to earlier queries, has been reduced from three to two months. This change will almost certainly reduce the number of Arkansans counted since the time allowed census workers to visit households and conduct follow-ups is significantly shortened. Phase two of the Count Review Operation, which ensures the accuracy of counts in group quarters like colleges and nursing homes, has been canceled altogether.

These and other programs are primarily aimed at ‘hard to count’ populations challenging to reach and reluctant to respond to census questions. Often dependent on large scale federal social programs for assistance with medical expenses, food costs, housing, and education, these groups include people with lower incomes, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, immigrants, and children. Since census numbers determine funding levels for these programs, any undercount adversely affects the welfare of those in underrepresented communities.

In 2016, according to the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy, Arkansas received close to $9.9 billion in federal funds distributed through various Federal programs, including Medicaid, SNAPS, Pell Grants, the National School Lunch Program, and different housing initiatives. This figure, taken from the 2010 Census count, equals approximately $3,300 per resident for each year from 2010 to 2020. Since the census bureau estimates an average of 2.5 residents in each housing unit, a single uncounted housing unit deprives the state of $8250 in federal funding.

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Before the NRFU project’s launch last week, just over 890,000 housing units or 58.3% of the 1.5 million housing units in the Census Bureau’s address file for Arkansas have responded. This percentage compares unfavorably with the 62.3% self-response rate for the state in the previous census, particularly since the current census offered two participation options unavailable in 2010. Table 1 shows only three counties with better response rates than the last census and only 16 counties, almost four percentage points shy of their 2010 performance. A single percent undercount, equating to just 30,000 people, would cost the state $990 million in lost funding over the next ten years.

The new time constraints will not automatically result in serious undercounts if the pace of reporting rates improve. The Bureau, census supporters, and stakeholders like the Arkansas Counts Coalition are redoubling their efforts to ensure an accurate count, but they face an uphill battle.

The United States Census Bureau recently launched the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) to chart the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. HPS is a 20-minute online survey sent to households scientifically chosen to represent the entire population. Selected individuals are asked questions to determine how their lives and livelihoods and those they live with have been affected by the ongoing crisis.

Created in collaboration with five other federal agencies, HPS provides weekly data reports on employment status, food security, population health, and other critical metrics. Begun in late April, these reports make it possible to track the impact of COVID 19 on Arkansas’s working-age population from early May to early July.

Table 1

Table 1 shows a substantial increase in the percentage of working-age Arkansans reporting a loss in household employment income since March 13. From May 19 to July 7, working households reporting losses in employment income increased steadily from 41.5% to 46.9%.

Table 2

Although the overall percentage of working-age adults in Arkansas who reported working in the last seven days increased slightly from 38% to 40.9%, the report rate fluctuated significantly during the nine weeks covered by Table 2. During June 2-9, the percentage of those who reported working fell to 33% but jumped to 43% three weeks later before plateauing at just above 40% by July.

Table 3

Table 4

Table 3 indicates that the percentage of working-age adults who report that their household sometimes or often does not have enough to eat varies widely from week to week but does not appear to follow any specific pattern. In contrast, Table 4 charts a steady increase in the rate of Arkansans that report that they have a harder time accessing food since March 13 despite some volatility in the fourth and fifth weeks of the reporting period.

Table 5

High rates of working-age adults in Arkansas believe themselves to be in fair or poor health. Table 5 places the percentage at 29.7% for the end of the reporting period, a 13% increase since mid-June, and nearly ten percentage points above the national average for the same period.

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In mid-March, the United States Census Bureau began publishing self-response rates for the 2020 Census. The self-response rate tracks the number of residents who have responded to the 2020 Census by mail, online, or telephone. It is calculated by subtracting the number of housing units that have responded from the total of housing units solicited.

As of July 15, 2020, 56.8% of all households in Arkansas have responded. Although residents have until October to respond to the Census, the current response rate for Arkansas is unlikely to change significantly, given the current slowdown in responses.

The 2010 mail response rate is used to compare the 2010 and 2020 Census self-response rates since mail-in forms were the only self-response option available in 2010. The mail response rate is calculated by dividing the housing units that mailed back their census forms by the total amount of housing units that received forms. In 2010 the mail response rate for Arkansas was 62.3%, 5.5. percentage points above the current self-response rate.

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Image 1 and 2 show the response rates of Arkansas counties in 2010 and for July of 2020. The areas of the state with high and low response rates are similar for each census year despite differences in individual counties. Calhoun County had one of the lowest self-response rates in 2010 and 2020 while Faulkner, Benton, and Greene counties were among the state’s highest. As of July 2020, the response rate for these three top-performing counties remains below their 2010 percentages.

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Image 3 lists the difference in self-response rates by county for 2010 and 2020. 2020 response rates for most Arkansas counties lag behind their 2010 final response rates, and the average reporting rate for the state in 2020 is seven percentage points lower than in 2010. Only Drew, Washington, and Hot Spring counties have self-reporting rates for 2020 that exceed the last Census. Arkansas is not unique. Only three states currently report self-response rates that surpass their 2010 numbers.

Many of the state’s lower-performing counties are located in ‘Update-Leave’ areas, defined by the Census Bureau as locations challenging to reach by mail. Bureau procedure, which is to send employees to these areas to deliver paper copies directly, was delayed for several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Arkansas only recently completed its first round of deliveries, and public preoccupation with the pandemic and the upcoming election may also have contributed to the lower response rate.

Arkansas’s reporting rate can still reach or even surpass the previous Census. Three months remain before the 2020 Census is concluded, and many initiatives are still underway or have yet to begin. The second delivery of questionnaires to update-leave areas starts soon, and the Census Bureau will launch door-to-door enumeration operations as the Census nears completion. When combined with the ongoing work of local and statewide groups to promote the Census, these efforts might enable the state to improve its response rate for 2020 significantly.

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Since mid-March, the United States Census Bureau has received 2020 Census forms from nearly 120 million households nationwide and has published information on the percentage of households that have self-responded on-line, by phone, or through the mail. These numbers are updated daily to help the Census Bureau and local groups ensure a complete count of people living in the United States as of April 1, 2020.

Self-response rates are calculated by dividing the number of responding households by the total number of households in the same area. This method often leads to an under-reporting of response rates since vacant households are included in the Census Bureau’s Masterfile of addresses. In a town with 60 occupied households and 40 vacant households, for example, the self-response rate reported by the Bureau could never exceed 60%, even if every occupied household responded.

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Relying on the 2018 ACS 5-Year Estimates, Image 1 lists the percentage of vacant households in Arkansas by county. Vacancy rates range from 7.1% to 38.3%, with the higher percentages clustered in the Northern, Eastern, and Southern parts of the state. The lower rates are generally located in Central and Northwest Arkansas. The counties with the lowest vacancy rates are Washington (7.1%), Lonoke (7.6%), Benton (8.3%), Craighead (8.9%), and Scott (9.6%). The ones with the highest are Newton (38.3%), Montgomery (35.5%), Lafayette (34.7%), Van Buren (34.3%), and Sebastian (33.6%).

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Image 2 indicates the self-response rate by county in Arkansas. It shows counties reporting rates ranging from 29.3% to 65.0% which roughly parallel the state’s vacancy rates (see image 1). Counties with higher vacancy rates have lower response rates, and those with lower vacancy rates have higher response rates. Approximately 56.7% of all Arkansas households self-responded.

Newton, Izard, Calhoun, Woodruff, and Lafayette counties have the lowest response rates, ranging from 29.3% to 39.7%. With the exception of Woodruff, each of these counties ranks among the ten counties with the highest vacancy rates. Conversely, Faulkner, Benton, Lonoke, and Greene have the highest self-response rates and the lowest vacancy rates. Self-response rates can change significantly, however, once vacant households are removed from the equation.

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Image 3 shows Arkansas’s self-response rate based on occupied housing units alone. This alteration increases the state self-response by nine percentage points to 65.8%. It also significantly alters county-wide self-reporting rates, jumping the county with the lowest rate from 29.3% to 46% and the highest from 61.9% to 93.1%.

While the percentages for many counties change drastically, the map looks much the same. The highest response rates are now concentrated around Pulaski County and north-central Arkansas, while the Northwestern and Northeastern parts of the state continue to have high response rates. Individual counties like Cleburne experienced a dramatic change, shifting from a self-response rate of 49.1% to 73.4%, Cleburne County went from 46 among 75 counties to the fourth highest response rate in the state.

Similarly, Van Buren increased its response rate from 46.1% to 70.2% and went from 54 to 12 in the county rankings. An additional 13 other counties also moved up at least ten spots, and Sebastian County, when its response rate is calculated on occupied housing, changes from 61.9% to 93.1% and achieves the state’s highest self-response rate.

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Table 1: Housing Unit Estimates for the 100 Fastest-Growing Counties With 5,000 or More Housing Units: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019 [table “24” not found /]

Table 1 shows the only two Arkansas counties that rank among the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates of the 100 fastest growing U.S. counties with 5,000 or more housing units for 2010- 2019. Benton County ranked 55, increased its housing units 20.5% from 93,093 in 2010 to 112,183 in 2019, while Craighead County, ranked 96, went from 40,516 to 46,934 housing units, an increase of 15.8%.

Table 2: Housing Unit Estimates for the 100 Fastest-Growing Counties With 5,000 or More Housing Units: July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019 [table “25” not found /]

Table 2 shows the same estimates for 2018 to 2019, but lists only Benton County, which increased its housing units by 3.5% and improved its ranking to 24.

Table 3: Annual Estimates of Housing Units for Counties in Arkansas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019 [table “28” not found /]

Drawn from the Census Bureau estimates for the increase in housing units in each U.S. County, Table 3 contrasts the five Arkansas counties that had the largest estimated gain in housing units between 2010 and 2019, with the five counties which consistently lost housing units over the same period. Benton County, with a 20.2% increase in housing units since 2010, tops the list of counties with significant growth, followed by Craighead, 15.6%; Saline, 10.3%; Lonoke, 10.2%; and Washington, 9.5%.

Bradley County suffered a 0.8% loss in housing units from 2010-2019, the largest percentage loss of among the five counties and the largest loss of any county in Arkansas. Monroe County was close behind with a 0.6% loss, followed by Woodruff, 0.4%, Ouachita, 0.3% and Clay, 0.2%.

Benton County is the only county in the state that experienced a steady increase in the growth rate of housing units over the ten year period. Between 2010 and 2011 its housing units grew only by 0.8%, but from 2016 to 2019 the county growth rate stayed well above 2.0%, reaching 3.52% in 2019.

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The U.S. Census Bureau just released its city population estimates for 2019 and ranked cities with populations of 50,000 or more by population growth for 2010-2019 and 2018-2019. Table 1 shows the eight towns in Arkansas that made the list of 719 cities with 50,000 people or more in 2010.

Table 1: Cumulative Estimates of Resident Population Change for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More in 2010, Ranked by Percent Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019 [table “21” not found /]

Rogers, which added 12,590 residents between 2010 and 2019, ranked first among Arkansas cities and 42nd nationally, with an overall growth rate of 22.4%. Growth rates for Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Conway, and Springdale all showed percentage increases in double-digit numbers, placing them in the upper half of the list of fastest-growing cities in the country. North Little Rock, Little Rock, and Fort Smith also experienced population growth, albeit at a much slower rate.

Table 2: Annual Estimates of Resident Population Change for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More in 2018, Ranked by Percent Change: July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019 [table “22” not found /]

Table 2 covers the period from 2018 to 2019 and ranks Arkansas cities by population from among the 774 American cities with 50,000 or more residents in 2018. The list of cities is the same as Table 1 with the addition of Bentonville, which ranked fifth in the nation, increasing its population by 7.4% or 3,804 people. Growth in the rest of the state’s cities for the same period was less robust, and Little Rock and North Little Rock had small population decreases.

Table 3: Annual Population Estimates for Cities and Towns with the Largest Net Population Gains and Losses in Arkansas: July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019 [table “23” not found /]

Table 3 shows the population estimates for nine Arkansas cities between 2010 and July 1, 2019, with the percentage growth for each year indicated. Bentonville easily tops the list with an average yearly growth rate of 4.9%, adding more than 19,000 new residents over ten years.

Conway’s population increased each year at an average of 1.42%, although growth rates fell below 1% in 2013, 2015, 2016, and again in 2019. Fayetteville grew at a more stable pace, with a slightly higher average overall growth rate than Conway and yearly averages for 2011-2019 that ranged between 1.13% and 2.38%.

Rogers, with a growth rate for 2011-2019 that ranked 42 nationwide, saw robust increases of between 1.5% and 3.5% for every year except 2010. Although percentage increases for 2018 and 2019 tapered off slightly above 1.5%, the city achieved an impressive overall average growth rate of 2.2%, placing second among the Arkansas cities listed. Roger’s neighboring town of Springdale has seen a steady decline in population growth since 2015, culminating in 0.27% for 2019. The city’s overall growth rate of 1.47% ranks fourth among the cities included in the survey.

Jonesboro, the only city on the list from east Arkansas, maintained a healthy overall growth rate of 1.67%, the third-highest among Arkansas cities over 50,000. The town attained its peak growth rate of 2.15% in 2011 and averaged well above 1% for each following year.

Of the three Arkansas cities that recorded periods of population loss during 2011-2019, Little Rock and North Little Rock experienced three consecutive years of decline, Little Rock from 2017-2019 and North Little Rock from 2015-2017. Before 2017 Little Rock’s yearly growth rate averaged well below 1%, and the city had the lowest overall population increase of any of the cities listed. North Little Rock, on the other hand, showed population gains of 1% or better for each year from 2011-2014 until encountering losses in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019.

Fort Smith, the only other Arkansas city to experience population declines, had a rocky growth rate during the decade, losing between 0.1% and 0.3% of its population during 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Although the city managed a slight overall increase for the period, 2011 was the only year where the number of residents grew by more than 1%.

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Population growth in a region is determined by natural increase, the difference between the number of births and deaths, and net migration, the difference between the number of people entering a region and those leaving it. Changes in population trends can help identify various economic and social trends.

Image 1: (Population Change and Natural Increase in Arkansas 2010-2019) divides the state’s counties into four categories:

  • Counties with positive population change and natural increase.
  • Counties with positive population change but negative natural increase.
  • Counties with negative population change but positive natural increase.
  • Counties with negative population change and negative natural increase

Seventeen counties in the state, primarily located in Central and Northwest Arkansas and in the Jonesboro area, experienced an overall population increase attributable to births outnumbering deaths. By contrast seven counties in the Delta, four in the southwest and a few elsewhere had more births than deaths, but still saw population declines due to residents leaving.

Even though deaths outpaced births in several counties in North and Central Arkansas, an in migration of new residents produced overall population increases. Overall 36 out of 75 counties in Arkansas lost population from 2010 to 2019.

Natural increase and net migration can be critical to understanding local population trends. The population of Benton County increased by nearly 60,000 during the last decade, but 40,000 of that increase came from net migration. A county like Hot Springs might experience population growth despite a decline in the natural increase rate due to families that already have children taking up residence in the area.

On the other hand, a county in the delta undergoing a decline in population even though births in the area outnumber deaths might indicate that the older population is moving out and the younger population staying put. Counties suffering from a population decrease might also have a stable older population but a high number of younger people moving out of their homes before having children.

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Image 1:

The population of Arkansas reached 3,017,804 in 2019. In line with previous estimates, the counties in Central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas remain the most populous in the state. With 391,911 inhabitants, Pulaski is still the state’s most populated county, followed by Benton (279,141) and Washington Counties (239,187). The counties with the smallest populations are Calhoun (5,227), Woodruff (6,466), and Lafayette (6,679).

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Consistent with well-established trends, Central and Northwest Arkansas remain the fastest growing areas in the state. Benton County had the state’s highest growth rate with a population increase of 26.1%, followed by Washington County at 17.8%. However, most counties in Arkansas lost population. This loss was particularly acute for counties in or adjacent to the Mississippi River Delta, many of which suffered population reductions in excess of 10%. A prime example is Phillips County, which lost 18.3% of its population, more than any other county in the state.

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The total population, median age and racial composition of Arkansas has changed significantly during the past decade.

Table 1: Percentage of growth of the population in Arkansas by racial group
[table “14” not found /]

As table 1 shows, the population of Arkansas topped three million in 2018, up from 2.92 million in 2010. The white population of the state experienced the largest actual number increase – about forty thousand. However that only constitutes a 1.66% percentage increase among those who identify as white, the smallest increase of any racial group.  Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders on the other hand, added only thousand people but increased their share of the population by 59.83%. Other racial groups including American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Asians and Hispanic or Latinos saw double digit percentage increases. Black Americans, the state’s second largest racial group, grew by 3.78%.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows that the median age for the state’s total population increased 0.9 years from 2010 to 2018.  The median age for women is significantly higher than men, and that trend has held steady for the period examined.

Table 2: Change in the median age of the population in Arkansas by racial group
[table “15” not found /]

Table 2 shows the changes in median age by race. With the exception of people who identify as two or more races, all racial groups and Hispanic or Latino groups showed increases in the median age. The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population increased from 23.1 to 26.4 years of age between 2010 and 2018, the most of any racial group.  The decrease experienced by people who identify as two or more races from 19.7 to 19.6., may be attributable to the inclination of younger people to select multiple races in Census Bureau surveys.

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