Project description

Local officials, demographers and advocates are worried the census could be particularly tough to carry out in Texas in 2020. They are bracing for challenges both practical and political that could make the state, which is already hard to count, even tougher to enumerate.

To put the problem into perspective, the Texas Tribune analyzed data on all of state’s 5,265 census tracts. We found 65 percent of the state lives in areas that are harder to count than the national average. In addition, we found the higher the percentage of Hispanics in a census tract, the more likely the tract is to be hard to count. A similar trend can be seen when examining poverty in Texas: The higher the poverty rate in a tract, the more likely residents are to be harder to count.

The day this project was launched, the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the census, announced that a citizenship question would be included on the 2020 census. This will likely only exasperate the issues already found in Texas.

What makes this project innovative?

When we were reporting on this project, we noticed immediately the correlation between areas that were harder to count and areas with high levels of Hispanic and poor residents. We first noticed the trend in the 10 census tracts that were hardest to count and the 10 that were easiest to count. But it wasn't until we put all of Texas's more than 5,000 tracts on a scatterplot did we realize how striking the correlation was statewide.

Among our findings: 66 percent of all the state's residents, 85 percent of the state's Hispanic residents and 84 percent of the state's poor residents live in areas that are harder to count than the national average. We also showed the same trends could be seen in every Texas urban area, including Austin and Houston. We were the first organization to reveal these numbers.

The dataset we used is made publicly available by the U.S. Census. They -- along with other organizations -- have used the this data to make maps in the past. But it's hard to show overall state trends using a map. A reader only sees the shapes of the tracts and how hard they are to count; it's difficult to see correlations. That's why we decided to show the data in an entirely new way. This allowed us to draw important conclusions and to show readers how drastic the problem is here in Texas.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

We measured the impact of this project by how many readers viewed the project, who shared the project and what publications republished the story. A total of 7 publications republished the story, including CityLab and Houston Public Media, and appeared on the front page of The Monitor newspaper in McAllen, Texas. The project was also cited by 4 media outlets, including Buzzfeed and Axios. The article was shared more than 20 times on social media by outside people and organizations, including the National Organization for Women and the Texas Civil Right Project. Some of the feedback we received from readers via email:

* "It's obvious that a lot of hard work went into it....hope the rest of your readers enjoy it as much as I did."
* "Thanks for the article. It was a great read. I appreciate everything the Tribune does and I appreciate the inclusion of hard data into the reporting."

Source and methodology

Technologies Used

command line tools: ogr2ogr, csvkit and mapshaper; javascript libaries: D3

Project members

Chris Essig and Alexa Ura


Project owner administration

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