Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by John J. Green, Professor of Sociology, University of Mississippi
Why the 2020 census matters for rural Americans

As director of the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies, I regularly talk to people about how they can use data to help their communities thrive.

The decennial census is particularly important – and the next one is less than a year away.

People living in rural and small town America in particular have much at stake in the 2020 census. Unfortunately, census participation tends to be lower in rural areas.

Our research network – including the State Data Center of Mississippi, Mississippi Kids Count Program and the Southern Rural Development Center – has been working to better understand potential barriers to census participation.

Valuable data

Legally mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census[1] is an effort to count all people living on American soil for the primary purpose of apportioning political representation in the federal government. Census data are also used for drawing political boundaries for local, state and federal elections.

Government agencies must use decennial census data, often coupled with data from the American Community Survey[2], to help determine government funding for rural development, infrastructure and health initiatives[3].

Census counts are also used to determine what places are considered rural or urban[4] and where counties fall along the rural-urban continuum[5].

Researchers focusing on rural America, like myself[6], are concerned with many issues that census data can help us to understand.

For instance, the rate of population loss in rural America has declined and even slightly reversed in recent years. However, there can be vast differences between regions. As noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s John Cromartie and Dennis Vilorio[7], “People moving to rural areas tend to persistently favor more densely settled rural areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Fewer are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and more remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas.”

2020 census data will help to improve demographers’ calculations of similar statistics to show rates and patterns of net migration[8]. This information can be used to help leaders better understand and plan for population shifts.

Low rural turnout

If many people don’t participate in the census, the data will be far less accurate. And rural people are less likely to take part.

In 2010, an average 73% of households returned the mailed version of the form[9]. My analysis of mail response rates by the rural-urban continuum codes[10] showed an average of 68% for non-metropolitan counties, compared with 75% for metropolitan counties.

Analysts have been trying to better understand why some populations are harder to count[11]. There are numerous barriers to participation in decennial censuses. Many people have limited knowledge about the census. Others distrust the government and are concerned about the confidentiality of their information.

Although rural America tends to do better on some indicators used to predict potential census participation, people who live in poverty and are isolated may be at a particular disadvantage[12].

In 2020, for the first time, the census will offer an avenue for online participation[13], with the hope this will make it easier for people to complete the questionnaire more efficiently. This is promising, but some rural places have limited access to broadband internet service[14].

Encouraging participation

Our research network cross-referenced Census Bureau data[15] with data on family and poverty characteristics to identify communities we thought would be likely to have lower participation in 2020.

Identifying two rural places and one urban, we held workshops with local stakeholders, including teachers, nonprofit leaders and clergy. We discussed challenges and opportunities for participating in the 2020 census, messaging that would resonate in their communities, and strategies for further engagement.

The Census Bureau assigns each area a ‘low response score,’ a predicted rate of how many people will not respond to the census.

People can promote participation in the 2020 census by discussing it with family members, neighbors, church members and work colleagues. Materials[16] available from the U.S. Census Bureau[17] can help.

We also emphasize that people can form or join Complete Count Committees[18] which promote an accurate count of the population in their communities. For example, participants might coordinate census promotion campaigns within churches, or develop community celebrations that feature the civic duty of census participation.

The 2020 census will be important for all Americans, but for those who live, work and care about rural communities and small towns, it will be critically important. I hope that Americans can work together to make sure that rural areas are accurately counted if they are to get their fair share.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter[19].]


  1. ^ the census (
  2. ^ American Community Survey (
  3. ^ rural development, infrastructure and health initiatives (
  4. ^ what places are considered rural or urban (
  5. ^ along the rural-urban continuum (
  6. ^ like myself (
  7. ^ John Cromartie and Dennis Vilorio (
  8. ^ rates and patterns of net migration (
  9. ^ returned the mailed version of the form (
  10. ^ My analysis of mail response rates by the rural-urban continuum codes (
  11. ^ why some populations are harder to count (
  12. ^ may be at a particular disadvantage (
  13. ^ online participation (
  14. ^ limited access to broadband internet service (
  15. ^ Census Bureau data (
  16. ^ Materials (
  17. ^ available from the U.S. Census Bureau (
  18. ^ Complete Count Committees (
  19. ^ You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter (

Authors: John J. Green, Professor of Sociology, University of Mississippi

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

Office Cleaner Takes Ownership of the Neglected Dishwasher

In an office that a dishwasher is being used communally, it is pretty difficult to set rules on how a certain appliance needs to be taken cared of. A dishwasher is a responsibility of no one until you...

News Company - avatar News Company

Amazing tips to become a successful trader

Everyone is working very hard to secure their financial freedom. Most of the people find it hard to support their family even after having a 9-5 day job. For this very reason, people often look for ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Best Practice For Young Professionals Working Through HR Internships

The industry of human relations is vitally important to the health and prosperity of a business.   Whether they are operating in textile manufacturing, accounting, sports, IT development or hospit...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Easy Steps To Gaining SEO Momentum For Your Business

SEO (search engine optimisation) does not have to be a tiresome and overbearing exercise that diverts attention away from the core functions of a business.   SEO Shark affirms this as a smart and ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Manage An SEO Project On Limited Funds

SEO operators don’t need thousands upon thousands of dollars to become successful.   What SEO practitioners needs more than ever is the skills and diligence to identify problems that are acting a...

News Company - avatar News Company

An Introduction To Coworking For Australian Business Owners

Advancing technology is bringing with it great advantages in communications and networking, and to survive in business you need to keep up. With the rate at which everything changes these days, that...

News Company - avatar News Company


New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt


SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN