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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