By Patrick R. Potyondy
Legislators know their districts. But they can always know them a little better. And with the 2020 census approaching fast—only 25 months before the official count starts—members may be curious about spotting any particularly hard-to-count areas.
To that end, the U.S. Census Bureau has just released ROAM, or Response Outreach Area Mapper, to help find those places. And the Center for Urban Research of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center has produced its own interactive map of hard-to-count districts.
Both mapping tools do more than locate hard-to-count groups, however, since they also provide additional key information such as median household income, race, population under five, foreign born, housing units, poverty rate, vacant housing units, and internet connectivity.
To test things out, I opened ROAM and zoomed into the census tract where I reside—Census Tract 44.03 in Denver County. I learned that the median household income is $47,000, that almost 30 percent of people there live below the poverty level, 55 percent of the housing units are renter-occupied, and that there is a diverse mix of people with 19 percent African American, 32 percent Hispanic, and 43 percent non-Hispanic white.
I can also see that the vast majority (99.01 percent) of most households in the tract have someone that speaks English “very well.” I was quickly able to compare this tract to nearby areas, too.
I also dove into CUNY’s map. For nostalgia’s sake, I clicked on Columbus, Ohio, where I used to live (go Buckeyes!). I was able to seamlessly click through tract info, the congressional district, and the state legislature district.
The standout feature in CUNY’s map in the end was the internet connectivity information for a given tract. I found out that in the area of my old home “between 60 to 80 percent of this tract’s households met the FCC’s minimum threshold of having Internet connectivity of 200 kbps for uploads or downloads.”
That is massively important since the 2020 census will be the first to feature response-by-internet as the first and primary response method. This shift away from paper questionnaires will affect urban and rural communities alike.
Both ROAM and the CUNY map have helpful guides that walk anyone through the finer points of the programs. Both maps allow for various layers or boundaries to show. ROAM includes the boundaries for congressional districts, ZIP codes, census tracts and counties.
The CUNY map, however, provides congressional districts but provides state legislative districts, too. The CUNY map is the more intuitive of the two although ROAM is also easy to use. Both allow a user to zoom in and out and select an area much like an online Google Map tool.
For those legislators interested in aiding a strong census count, such as through legislating the formation of a complete count committee, the true purpose of ROAM is to map an area’s “Low Response Score” (LRS) as it’s called in ROAM or the “Census Self-Response” rate via the CUNY map. These give a strong indication how much relative effort an area will take to complete the Census Bureau’s goal “to count everyone once, only once and in the right place” in the area.
Knowing the LRS and self-response rate can aid a state-level complete count committee—which legislators can create through legislation and/or serve on—in reaching out to especially hard-to-count populations. If you would like more information on creating complete count committee or providing state funding for outreach for the 2020 census, please contact me at NCSL anytime.
For more on the census, see our webinar that NCSL co-hosted with the U.S. Census Bureau titled “2020 Census: How State Legislators Can Make a Difference.” And check out our two-page LegisBrief, “What You Need to Know About the 2020 Census.”
Patrick Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.