The 2020 Census in Nevada Snapshot #5

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by Daniel Liden

Classifying Hard to Count Census Tracts in Rural Nevada

The previous census snapshot introduced the census tract segmentation scheme produced by the Census Bureau Communications Research and Analytics Team (CRAT). The CRAT assigned a classification to each of Nevada’s census tracts according to factors such as demographics, media consumption habits, and Internet access.

This snapshot describes the features of Nevada’s hard-to-count rural areas, following the research conducted by the CRAT. The vast majority of Nevada, by area, is made up of census tracts classified as “Country Roads” or “Sparse Spaces.” These tracts comprise most of Nevada’s rural areas and represent approximately 11.4 percent of Nevada’s population. Residents of both census tract segments are expected to respond to the 2020 Census at rates somewhat lower than the national average. Figure 1 shows which of Nevada’s census tracts are classified as “Country Roads” or “Sparse Spaces.”

Figure 1: Classification of Nevada’s Rural Census Tracts

Sparse Spaces

Approximately 7.8 percent of Nevada’s population resides in census tracts classified as “sparse spaces.” The predicted self-response rate (the proportion of those in a census tract who respond to the census by mail, phone, or Internet) of “sparse spaces” census tracts is 49 percent, well short of the anticipated tract average self-response rate of 60.5 percent. 51 percent of the 2020 census self-response in tracts classified as “sparse spaces” is anticipated to come from online responses, compared to an expected national rate of 66 percent. Based on 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data, only around 61 percent of households in “sparse spaces” census tracts have Internet access, compared to 77 percent nationally. The average person in this segment spends 10% less time on the Internet than the national average.

Demographically, the populations of “sparse spaces” census tracts are majority white (80 percent, compared to 61 percent nationally). They tend to be older: 24 percent are over the age of 65, compared to 15 percent nationally. College education rates and median household income are below the national average. Six percent of residents of “sparse spaces” census tracts are foreign born, compared to 13 percent nationally.

Country Roads

Approximately 3.6 percent of Nevadans live in census tracts classified as “country roads.” These tracts share many characteristics with “sparse spaces,” including a low anticipated online response rate; a predominantly white and US-born population; lower-than-average rates of college education; and lower-than-average median incomes.

“Country roads” census tracts differ from “sparse spaces” in several important ways. The anticipated census response rate is considerably higher at 60 percent. Internet access rates are also higher, at 70 percent; however, this is not expected to translate to substantially higher online response rates. Residents of “country roads” census tracts tend to be older than the national average but younger than those in “sparse spaces” tracts: 16 percent are older than 65 years old. A higher proportion of households in “country roads” tracts than in “sparse spaces” tracts have children (32 percent compared to 23 percent).


Internet access and usage habits are particularly important as the 2020 census is the first decennial census in which most Americans are expected to respond online instead of submitting paper questionnaires (Internet response was not an option in previous decennial censuses). According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau, Internet proficiency is correlated with likelihood to respond to the 2020 census: respondents with higher levels of Internet proficiency reported being more likely to respond to the census than those with lower levels of Internet proficiency. Given the lower-than-average rates of Internet access in rural Nevada, it will be important to ensure that residents of these areas have easy access to resources enabling them to obtain and complete paper census forms and that outreach efforts are not predominantly Internet-based.