As U.S. Census Bureau field workers undertake last-minute efforts in the 2020 census, officials say they're optimistic about meeting the shortened timeframe – despite complaints from community groups and concerns about undercounting critical populations.
In Columbus, the self-response rate this year stands at 60.8%, which is several points below the 63.1% rate in 2010. In Ohio, the rate stands at 68.6%, compared to 69% in 2010.
“We are still confident that we can speed up the count without sacrificing completeness,” says U.S. Census spokesman Stephen Shope.
The 2020 Census suffered a critical setback in March when the coronavirus pandemic stopped door-to-door counts for several months. Then, the Trump administration announced last month that the census count would finish at the end of September, a month earlier than in previous years.
The once-every-decade headcount of every person living in the U.S. is used to portion out $675 billion in federal funding to states and local communities for schools, infrastructure and more. It also helps determine representation in Congress and the state legislature.
“This data that we’re taking just 10 minutes to get this survey completed benefits their families, their community, their state, for the next 10 years,” Shope says.
However, critics worry that the shortage of time will reduce counts in minority and immigrant communities, as well as among renters, rural residents, and other undercounted groups who don’t readily fill out census forms. A coalition of civil rights groups, voter advocates, states and cities - including Columbus - have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to block the deadline change.
Shope says it's fortunate that the Census Bureau began the count two weeks earlier than usual, and says the agency has also increased the hours of field workers.
“The staffing authorizations are based on an enumerator working 15-20 hours per week,” Shope says. “What we’ve done is put incentives in place to get these temporary workers to actually work 30-40 hours a week so they’ll be able to do well within that timeframe the work that needs to be done.”
Shope says enumerators knock on doors and can quickly document the information they receive from residents.
“The enumerator will have a Census-issued device, an Apple iPhone, and they will conduct the survey by asking the questions and the enumerator will enter those questions into the device,” Shope says.
Shope says many U.S. residents have already filled out the Census survey online.
“That self-response rate helps to minimize the amount of work that has to be done by enumerators,” says Shope.