The next census, set to begin on April 1, 2020, will bring a renewed focus on the populations that have historically been hard to count. These include the unemployed, those living below the poverty line, and people with limited English proficiency. People without internet access are also included since the 2020 census will strongly encourage online submission of census forms.
Taken as a whole, Arkansas counties have an average poverty rate (defined for a family of four at $24,858 a year) of 20.4% and a median of 19.9%. Phillips County has the state’s highest poverty rate at 32.97% and Saline County has the lowest at 8%. Counties with the highest poverty rates are mostly concentrated in the Mississippi River Delta area and southern Arkansas.
The average unemployment rate for Arkansas counties is 7.3% and the median is 6.8%. Phillips County has the highest unemployment rate (15.7%) while Benton County has the lowest (3.1%). Counties with the highest rates of unemployment, like those with higher poverty rates, are concentrated along the Mississippi River and the southern parts of the state bordering Louisiana and Texas. Additionally, Polk (8.5%), Scott (10.6%), and Logan (8.1%) counties to the west and Van Buren (8.3%), Stone (8.3%) and Izard (9.3%) counties in north central Arkansas have similar unemployment levels as the southern counties.
Although only an average of 1.7% of Arkansas county residents statewide fit this category, Hispanics who speak English less than very well and speak Spanish are primarily concentrated in several counties in the western and northwestern parts of the state. Sevier County has the highest percentage (15.6%) of residents that self-identify as part of this group followed by Yell (8.02%), Washington (7.0%) and Carroll (5.65%) counties. Several counties including Cross, Lafayette, Newton, and Woodruff have few or no Spanish speakers.
An average of 67.3% of county households in the state have internet access. Counties in central, northwest, and northeast Arkansas have the highest percentage of residents with internet access. Washington County (83.9%) has the state’s highest percentage of households with internet access and Desha County (50.5%) the lowest.
Although reaching historically ‘hard to count’ populations can be a challenge, the Census Bureau makes every effort to achieve an accurate count. While the preferred method of distribution for census materials will be online, all residents have the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. The Bureau also follows up on non-responders to insure that everyone is counted.
Strong efforts are needed to engage the Hispanic population in the west and northwestern sections of the state and encourage participation by residents in areas like the Mississippi Delta that have long struggled with poverty and unemployment. Every county should try to identify the best ways to best count their own local populations. An accurate Census count is essential for local communities to qualify for federal funds and grants to help pay for roads, schools, hospitals, public works, and other programs.
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