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Census 2010… and the Winner is….

The Census Bureau just released the final, official tally of Census 2010 participation rates across the country. While the overall national rate came to 74 percent--matching the rate from a decade ago and heralded as “a significant achievement in a time of declining survey participation worldwide”--response rates varied greatly in different parts of the country.

As I noted last November, certain metro areas were home to more “hard to count” populations than others. And, as I noted at the end of March, the Midwest and rural areas were leading the pack in terms of their participation rates early on.

Now it’s time to check the final score. Using county-level participation rate data from Census, I calculated average participation rates for metropolitan areas across the U.S.

And the winner is… Milwaukee! This metro area saw 84 percent participation, but that was actually a decrease over its rate in 2000 (87 percent). Rounding out the top ten in 2010 were Minneapolis-St. Paul, Madison, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Indianapolis, Detroit, Ogden, Cleveland, and Youngstown, all of which saw more than 80 percent participation. Once again, the Midwest dominates.

The metro areas with the lowest participation rates were the two Louisiana metros of New Orleans and Baton Rouge with 61 and 62 percent participation, respectively, which both saw major population shifts following Hurricane Katrina. McAllen, TX--the metro area with the highest proportion of its population considered “hard to count”--followed close behind, with 63 percent participation. Rounding out the ten lowest were Albuquerque, Tulsa, Colorado Springs, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, and Oklahoma City. The two Colorado metros are somewhat surprising, given that they were in the bottom quarter of metros when ranked by their “hard-to-count” populations.

The “most improved” prize goes to Columbia, SC, which saw its participation rate jump from 65 percent in the 2000 census to 76 percent this year.  And the next five “improved” metros are all in the Southeast: Chattanooga, Greenville, Knoxville, Birmingham, and Raleigh. These six metros saw participation rates go up at least 7 percentage points between the two censuses.

Other places registered lower participation rates this decade than last: 51 of the 100 largest metro areas, in fact. The largest drops occurred in New Orleans (likely a function of population displacement after Hurricane Katrina), San Diego, Modesto, Buffalo, Toledo, and Oxnard, all of which dropped at least 5 percentage points.