Census Bureau

A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.

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Orient yourself: Census akimbo

Normally, only city planners, statisticians, and GIS nerds would be following the news about the upcoming census. (Insert nerd emoji.) But it seems U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has raised the stakes.

Former Census Bureau officials, civil rights attorneys, and at least a dozen states are condemning Ross’s announcement this week to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 census. This debate is largely a partisan one.

Map of mail-in reply rates. The darker the blue, the higher the predicted nonresponse rate. (Census)

Yet the potential damage wouldn’t be restricted to left-leaning communities. In a special dispatch for MapLab, Kriston Capps, a CityLab staff writer covering the census, reports:

The argument for the citizenship question from the Commerce and Justice Departments is that it will help with voting rights enforcement. Critics believe the untested question could lower response rates, from undocumented and documented immigrants, resulting in widespread undercounts. In turn, the numbers that governments and businesses rely on for allocating funds and planning investments would be distorted. Affected states could also see their congressional seats reduced.

Yet the partisan appeal of the citizenship question is surprising. Based on neighborhood demographics, median household incomes, and the number of households in multi-unit housing, the Census Bureau’s new mapping tool of predicted mail-in reply rates (detail shown above) shows that the stakes would be high for both parties.

Populations with predicted low reply rates are concentrated in immigrant-dense blue states along the West Coast. The undercounts are likely to punish these areas. But deep-red Texas, purplish Florida, and however-you-describe North Carolina are also dotted with these communities. Undercounts of vulnerable, hard-to-reach, and potentially distrustful populations could actually be bad business for Republicans there. Texas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina are all projected to gain congressional seats after 2020, but a bad count could undermine that process.

Map of mail-in reply rates. The darker the blue, the higher the predicted nonresponse rate. (Census)

Career bureaucrats FTW: The Census Bureau’s new mapping tool, ROAM, is yours to explore. “The primary purpose of the census [is] to apportion funds and legislative redistricting, so we want to be sure that we are counting people in the right place,” Deirdre Dalpiaz Bishop, chief of the Census Bureau’s geography division, told Government Cloud Insider. “We want to educate people on how to use ROAM so they can get the word out in their communities in any way possible.”


Compass points: Teens get mapping

The nonprofit media company Youth Radio has distributed high-quality student journalism to mainstream outlets since 1993. Last weekend, it dispatched teen correspondents to March For Our Lives events around the country to capture the voices of students protesting gun violence and demand reform. You better believe they mapped about it, too. For every pin-drop, a message for change:

Screenshot of the map. (Youth Radio)

Every continent except Antarctica: the New York Times mapped more than 800 protests for stricter gun laws around the world.


Mappy links

Also a secret radical cartographer: Henry David Thoreau. ♦ Map news, so big right now: The Supreme Court searches for consensus on gerrymandering. ♦ CityLab’s suggestion: Commuter flows could help. ♦ Travel them: Lonely highways need love, too. ♦ The blue stuff, guys: the cartographers who put water where there’s land. ♦ Lasting allure: Mapping Europe’s densest neighborhoods. ♦ What’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for society, which includes your mapping app. ♦  Proof: the driver of the Uber vehicle that got stuck on some stairs blamed his app.


Without geography, we’d be lost. Share MapLab with a friend, and sign up here. And as always, give me your feedback.

—Laura

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