by Daniel Liden
Language Proficiency and Census Response Rates
Our sixth census snapshot highlighted some of the challenges that will be faced when trying to obtain a compete census count in Nevada’s cities. One significant challenge is outreach to those who do not speak English well or at all. In this snapshot, we focus on the importance of multilingual outreach in ensuring a complete 2020 census count.
There are 139 census tracts in Clark County, most of them located in Las Vegas, wherein more than 10 percent of households have no residents over the age of 14 who speak only English or who speak English “very well” (from American Community Survey [ACS], out of options “Very well,” “Well,” “Not well,” and “Not at all”). Most of these census tracts belong to the “multicultural mosaic” segment described in the previous snapshot. Figure 1 shows the proportion of households in Las Vegas’s census tracts without residents over the age of 14 who speak English “very well.”
Figure 1: Proportion of Households in Las Vegas with No Residents Who Speak English “Very Well”
The Census Bureau notes that “The data on ability to speak English represent the person’s own perception about his or her own ability or, because ACS questionnaires are usually completed by one household member, the responses may represent the perception of another household member.”
English Language Proficiency and Census Response
The Census Bureau conducted the 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (2020 CBAMS) in order to “drive the creative strategy and media planning including demographic specific messaging” for the 2020 census. The CBAMS survey asked respondents how well they spoke English. The final CBAMS report classified those who spoke English “very well” as “English proficient” and all other responses (“well,” “not well,” and “not at all”) as “Not English proficient.”
54.7 percent of respondents who were classified as “not English proficient” reported that they were “extremely” or “very” likely to complete the census, compared to 68.2 percent of “English proficient” respondents, suggesting that low English language proficiency may be a barrier to completing the 2020 census. Furthermore, non-English-proficient respondents were less familiar with the census and more likely to get specific questions about the purpose and use of the census wrong than English-proficient respondents. Non-English-proficient respondents were also more likely to believe that their answers to the census would be used against them and would not be kept confidential.
Languages Spoken in Clark County
The Census Bureau’s 2015 data release titled “Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 years and Over: 2009-2013,” which is based on the 2009-2013 ACS data, provides some insight into which languages will be particularly important for outreach efforts. The ten most-spoken languages in Clark County and the percentage of speakers of those languages who speak English less than “Very Well” are shown in table 1. This table demonstrates the importance of multilingual outreach: hundreds of thousands of Nevadans who speak a language other than English self-reported that they do not speak English “very well.”
Table 1: Top languages spoken in Clark County and percentage of speakers of those languages who speak English less than “Very Well.” Based on 2009-2013 ACS data.
|Language||Number of Speakers Five Years of Age and Older||Percentage of Speakers who Speak English Less than “Very Well”|
|Total Population Ages 5 and Older (2009-2013)||1,840,196||—|
|Chinese (Inc. Cantonese, Mandarin, Other)||24,364||60%|
|French (Inc. Patois, Cajun)||6,077||18%|
|German (incl. Luxembourgian)||5,456||15%|
- Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over: 2009-2013: This Census Bureau data release provides detailed counts of speakers of many more than the 39 languages and language groups routinely published in ACS data releases. It also provides details of self-reported English-speaking ability.
- 2019 Census Planning Database: The planning database (PDB) contains a various ACS data extracts, response rates, and low response scores (see snapshots 1-3). Among the extracts included in the PDB are data on the number of households without residents with high levels of English-language proficiency.
- 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS): The CBAMS survey report includes data on respondents’ self-reported English proficiency and on the association between English proficiency and factors associated with census response, such as trust in government and belief that the Census could help/harm one’s community.