Will You Count? Renters In The 2020 Census

Renters and transitory occupants are at risk of being undercounted.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the net undercount rate for people living in rental housing units in the 2010 Census was 1.1 percent compared to a net overcount of 0.6 percent for people living in owner occupied housing units. Some groups of renters had particularly high net undercount rates. There was a 12.2 percent net undercount rate for black male renters age 30 to 49, and 6.1 percent net undercount rate for male American Indians and Alaskan Natives renters age 30 to 49, and a net undercount of 8.6 percent for Hispanic Male renters age 18-29.

More U.S. households are renting today than at any point in the last 50 years. In total, more than one third of U.S. households are renters (37 percent), a number that has ballooned since the start of the Great Recession. Geographically, more than one-third of renters live in the South (about 36 percent), though a significant number of renters live in every region. In the four biggest cities by population (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston), the majority of households were rented.

What are the hard-to-count characteristics of renters and transitory occupants?

Renters share certain characteristics that compound their risk of being undercounted, including:

  • Transitory Status: Renters are more likely to be missed in the census because they are more likely to be moving during the census-taking process.
  • Poverty: Households in poverty are traditionally very hard to count, 11 and nearly 30 percent of renters today live below the poverty line. Renters who are forced to devote a greater share of their income towards rent are at higher risk of eviction and could be undercounted if their address is not updated when evicted. 13 In 2015 alone, 2.7 million renters were faced with eviction.
  • Race and Ethnicity: Historically, Black and Hispanic people have been undercounted in the decennial census, 15 and renters are disproportionately people of color. In fact, Black and Hispanic households are about twice as likely to be renters as White households. In total, 58 percent of Black households and 54 percent of Hispanic households rent their homes, which is much higher than the national average. Renters of color also have significantly lower median incomes, making them even more likely to be living in poverty and undercounted.
  • Education: Areas with lower educational attainment are also hard to count, and renters tend to have lower educational attainment compared to the U.S. average. The majority (52 percent) of people who are the head of their household and do not have a high school degree are renters, 20 compared to 29 percent of college-educated household heads.
  • Type of Housing: Multi-unit buildings are considered a factor that makes an area hard-to-count, and renters tend to live in multi-unit buildings. In fact, 61 percent of renters live in multi-unit buildings, compared to 5 percent of those who own their homes.

Transitory occupants – people whose “usual home” at the time of the census is transitory or mobile – are also at heightened risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census. In addition to sharing some of the characteristics listed above, transitory occupants tend to live in hard-to-reach locales (e.g., hotels, motels, marinas, racetracks, circuses, carnivals, campgrounds, and RV parks).

Furthermore, the Census Bureau will not automatically visit every motel and hotel and instead will conduct a special “transitory enumeration” that relies upon assistance from local officials and community advocates in identifying temporary transitory locations, such as motels that now house families displaced by economic distress.