As the 2020 U.S. Census creeps closer, local leaders are coordinating with various groups across Clark County — from schools to neighborhood associations to city councils to faith-based organizations — in an effort to ensure Southwest Washington ends up with the most accurate count possible.
Together, they form the Clark County Complete Count Committee. And last week, the group of 60-odd representatives met up to discuss some of the challenges they might face in getting people to fill out a census or speak with an enumerator.
Areas most at risk of underreporting in 2020: the Fourth Plain corridor, Fruit Valley and a cluster of tracts just east of Interstate 205. All of those census tracts will likely end up with nonresponse rates of at least 20 percent and potentially more than 30 percent, according to predictions from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The most historically undercounted census tract is in the city, and it’s labeled in red,” said Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz, demonstrating a mapping tool from Washington’s Office of Financial Management during a Sept. 18 meeting of the Complete Count Committee at the Water Resources Education Center.
The tract in question is bordered by Fourth Plain Boulevard on the south, Highway 500 on the north, Northeast Stapleton Road on the west and Northeast 72nd Avenue to the east. It’s expected to underreport by 30.9 percent in 2020 — cutting down resources and representation allocated to the area, which are determined by census results, by nearly a third.
The stakes are high, said Ty Stober, a Vancouver city councilor who worked with Lentz to bring the group together.
He described his feelings toward the approaching census as closest to “panic.” He’s worried about how a low count could impact the city over the next decade, as various pots of state and federal money are allocated based on headcount.
“We are a growing community,” Stober said, “and we need more clout in Olympia.”
Jobs, and lots of them
The approaching census also means that the government will soon start hiring tens of thousands of enumerators nationwide to knock on doors.
Lorraine Ralson, partnership specialist at the Los Angeles Regional Census Center of the U.S. Census Bureau, estimated on Sept. 18 that Clark County alone would need to recruit 5,000 people.
Toby Nelson, Western media contact for the bureau, said that estimate might be a little steep, and that there’s no way of knowing how many enumerators the county will need until the government gets a sense of who hasn’t filed their census information online. But it will likely be a lot of people.
“We’re really encouraging self-response because it’s a lot more cost efficient than sending people from door to door,” Nelson said. “In late spring, everybody who has not self-responded will get a visit from an enumerator.”
The bureau is currently accepting applications for enumerators and will continue to do so through February. Applicants should expect to hear back in March.
In Clark County, enumerators make $17.50 an hour. The rate varies from county to county and is based on income data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Washington state, the U.S. Census Bureau operates offices out of Olympia, Spokane, Everett, Bellevue and Tacoma. Locally, enumerators will record information on handheld electronic devices — there’s no Clark County regional office.
The position will last six to eight weeks, with options available for both part-time and full-time work, Nelson said. The job is open to any U.S. citizen over 18 years old with a valid Social Security number and an email address.
“This is really an ideal position. We welcome anybody to apply,” Nelson said. “These are very flexible jobs. Ideal for a retired person, for a college student.”
“Let me put it this way,” he concluded. “This will be the largest peacetime labor mobilization in American history.”
To apply to become an enumerator, visit census.gov/jobs.