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An Opportunity for Competitive Challenges in the 2020 Census

On January 15, 2020, Mayor Dave Carlsrud and members of the Valley City Complete Count Committee traveled to Jamestown to issue a challenge to Mayor Dwaine Heinrich. The contest: which city will record the highest self-response rate in the 2020 Census.

In this friendly competition, the mayor of the “losing” city will have to wear a baseball cap promoting the other city at the next televised city meeting. But the reality is, both cities win, as long as they can push their response rate over what it otherwise would have been without the competition. So, the city that comes in second still wins, since the census count is used to determine the flow of federal and state dollars to the local level.

To our knowledge, this is the first community challenge established nationwide ahead of the 2020 Census. The community challenge between Valley City and Jamestown occurred prior to the Census Bureau releasing its Response Rate Challenge Toolkit.

Similar to these efforts, the North Dakota League of Cities is organizing a “Census Craziness” competition with two brackets. The first is among the 16 largest cities in the state, the second is among smaller cities that have signed up for the competition. At the county level, the North Dakota Association of Counties plans to track and post the response rates of all 53 counties, set up like a derby, as results are made available.
Mayors Dave Carlsrud of Valley City and Dwaine Heinrich of Jamestown challenge one another
Local Challenges Supporting ND’s Goal for the 2020 Census

The competition between Valley City and Jamestown, as well as the efforts by the North Dakota League of Cities and Association of Counties, supports the state's objectives in the 2020 Census. Gov. Doug Burgum has a straightforward goal for North Dakota: Have the highest self-response rate of any state. These leaders should be commended for taking the initiative to improve the well-being of their communities and associations.
How A Challenge Works

The Census Bureau recommends establishing a challenge in one of two ways. The first is a community self-challenge in which the community challenges itself to obtain a certain percentage of response rate. The second is for two similar communities, states or counties to challenge each other to obtain a higher response rate by a certain deadline. The example of April 30 is given in the 2020 Census Response Rate Challenge Toolkit as the end of the contest period.

In order to track each party's response performance, the contesting communities can track their scores daily by the Response Rates Map here. The contest begins in mid-March, once response rates begin to come in. They are posted weekly on the ND Census 2020 website.
The Effort Appears to be Needed

The daily release of response rates by political and statistical geography provides us with a unique opportunity to track how our state’s response rate is compared to other states and assists local response rate challenges, such as what has occurred between Valley City and Jamestown. 

Given that North Dakota was ranked 27th out of all 50 states in 2010, the state has its work cut out this time around. Hence, the reason the governor proposed a $1 million budget and appointed a 2020 Census Complete Count Task Force to address response rate.  

Of the 50 states, North Dakota had one of the largest response rate declines between the 2000 and 2010 Censuses. We're hoping to see that change in 2020.
League of Cities Big City and Small but Mighty Brackets (click to enlarge)
Background of Census Response Rates
A modern U.S. decennial census is completed in two phases for individuals living in regular residential housing. For several decades, forms have been sent to individual residents by mail if they receive mail at their homes, dropped off by a Census Bureau employee or if the individuals receive their mail through the use of a post office box. Self-response rates are important for several reasons. 

First, when individuals self-respond accurately with everyone in their household listed, they take themselves out of the category of potentially not being counted in the census. Secondly, they save tax dollars that can be used for far more important things.

When households do not respond to the census, they trigger what is called a “Non-response follow up.” A Census Bureau employee must go to their residence to gather answers to the questionnaire in person. This is a costly operation, as the federal government must pay wages, insurance, vehicle mileage and so on. These also are funds that could be better spent in more productive ways.

Uncounted individuals impact their local communities. The George Washington University Counting-for-Dollars study suggests this amounts to $19,100 per missed resident in North Dakota over a 10-year time frame. These federal funds are then spread thinly across a host of areas from school programs to road construction. Being missed only ensures that other states received funding that rightfully belongs to our state.

For the last two censuses, which occurred in the years 2000 and 2010, the Census Bureau has tracked and published the rate of self-response after the completion of the survey, for each political and statistical geography in which self-response was an option. That is the percentage of households that responded by mail using the census form, without an enumerator having to preform non-response follow up (NRFU).

The primary purpose of collecting and releasing this data was so the Census Bureau could plan for a more efficient use of manpower and geographic targeting of hard-to-count populations. The 2010 Census response rates appear to be a key component, although not the only component, in the Census Bureau Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM) program that the bureau is using to predict the response rate of each area.
How would these Response Rate Challenges Have Turned Out in 2010?
Unfortunately, we only have the “end results” for self-response rates of each of the potential contestants, as they did not have the benefit of daily updates in response performance that we do now with Census 2020.

That said, if the Valley City and Jamestown competition happened during the 2010 Census, Valley City would have beat Jamestown 83% to 79%. Valley City would have also beat Jamestown if the contest had been held in the 2000.

Had the 53 counties in the state competed in the 2010 Census, Pierce County would have won with 87%. Pierce would have also been rated as most improved, having climbed by 6 percentage points since the 2000 Census. Barnes, Burleigh and Stark would have been tied for second place at 84%. The state’s four largest counties came in the top 10 with self-response rate. The smaller, more rural counties dominated the lower rankings.

Among all 248 cities in North Dakota that are reported for the 2010 Census (nine cities in North Dakota were not reported as they are located on tribal areas that did not have a chance to self-report in the 2010 Census or were too small to report) 11 had a 100% response rate. However, most of them had less than 200 residents. Wimbledon, in northwest Barnes County, was the largest with 216 residents in 2010.

The largest North Dakota city with a response rate of 90% or more was Harwood with 718 residents in Cass County north of Fargo. For those cities at or near the 2,500 count of residence, Casselton had the highest response rate with 89%, beating Rugby by just 1%. For those cities with 20,000 or more residents, West Fargo had a response rate of 84%, beating Bismarck, which came in at 83%.
2020 Census Mobile Questionnaire Assistance (MQA) Webinar
This Friday, March 6, Department of Commerce will be partnering with the State Library to host a webinar on MQA sites. Erin Musland, partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, will provide an overview of 2020 Census Mobile Questionnaire Assistance (MQA) centers. MQAs will be a critical component to ensuring a large response to the 2020 Census in North Dakota. This webinar will explain what an MQA is, how you can host one and the resources available to you. It will also cover a list of "dos" and "don'ts" and answer frequently asked questions. If you are a volunteer or library employee who may interact with a census respondent, you don't want to miss this one!

Join us here: https://zoom.us/j/578630846
Everyone who Competes in this Contest is a Winner!
Regardless of how communities organize a challenge or how many contestants agree to participate in the competition, this is a contest in which everyone who plays wins! The friendly competition is meant to be just that, “friendly.” The real winners are those in the community who benefit from a complete count.
Even if the prize offered is just bragging rights, by competing, each community will likely improve its overall response rate. With a complete count, they provide the basis for both the representation of their community for the next decade as well as an accurate distribution of both federal and state funds. Be Counted!
Upcoming Events:
March 1-7, 2020 - Valley City Winter Show - Valley City Event Center
March 6, 2020 - Webinar on MQA sites - Online via Zoom Platform 
March 12-14, 2020 - ND Stem Conference - Cheney Middle School
April 14-15, 2020 - League of Cities Spring Workshop, Bismarck, Ramkota
Be Legendary – Be Counted!
Become A Community Champion!
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