The success of marketing research and analytics in the U.S. is intimately tied to an accurate decennial count of the population, but between funding and potential meddling with the questionnaire, we face plenty of hurdles. Capturing the hard-to-count (HTC) populations is obviously the toughest (and most expensive) part of the 2020 Census. Rural areas, in particular, are surprisingly hard to count.

A new report from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire finds that "the majority of the population living in HTC counties (71 percent) are in urban areas, but the majority of HTC counties (79 percent) are in rural areas."

(We already know that the American Community Survey (ACS), which replaced the old Census long form, has only razor-thin response margins before it can no longer accurately survey at least 40 percent of rural counties and small towns, which is why the Insights Association advocates against making respose to the ACS voluntary.)

Appalachia, approximately 420 counties from New York to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, has 34 percent of its population living in "nonmetro counties, twice the national level." It is also one of the historically poorer regions of the U.S. According to the report, "the most remote rural areas of Appalachia, defined here as nonmetropolitan counties that are not adjacent to a metro area, have a higher percentage of their population living in HTC areas than any other type of area in Appalachia. In West Virginia, which is entirely in the Appalachian region, nearly one-quarter of the population lives in HTC census tracts, a higher share than any other part of Appalachia and higher than the national average."

Appalachia map

Overall, the report concludes, "rural residents are less likely than urban residents to live in areas that will be the most difficult to enumerate in the 2020 Census, but some groups and some places in rural America will nevertheless be very difficult to enumerate accurately. Special attention is needed for populations and places, such as:

  • Blacks in the rural South
  • Hispanics in the rural Southwest
  • American Indians on reservations
  • Alaska Natives
  • Residents of deep Appalachia
  • Migrant and seasonal farmworkers