Last week, census workers began knocking on the doors of households that have not responded to the 2020 census.
Even though Washington has the third-highest response rate in the country and Clark County the highest self-response rate in the state, there are still many people left to count for the decennial census.
The time allotted the count every person in the country was recently cut short. The Census Bureau previously set Oct. 31 as the absolute end date for census work, but recently bumped up the deadline to Sept. 30.
Toby Nelson, Pacific Northwest spokesman for the Census Bureau, said the original deadline of July 31 was extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Census workers, called enumerators, were scheduled to begin knocking on the doors of nonresponding households in May, but for most areas, including Clark County, the start date was pushed to Aug. 11.
Apportionment data is due Dec. 31, and it takes time to receive and process all of the information, Nelson said. Before the pandemic, the bureau estimated where response rates would be by certain dates, and now response rates are at or above those estimates.
“Given that we have set the final deadline for response at Sept. 30,” Nelson said.
A count of people at shelters, soup kitchens, mobile food vans and certain outdoor locations is happening Sept. 22 to 24.
To reach historically undercounted communities, the Census Bureau is increasing its partnerships and committing more money to advertising, spending $1 out of every $5 on media reaching Hispanic audiences, Nelson said.
Enumerators will have government-issued photo ID badges bearing a holographic Department of Commerce seal. (To verify whether someone is an enumerator, call 1-800-992-3530.) Enumerators will wear face masks, practice social distancing, have the option to wear gloves and be asked to sanitize their hands multiple times a day to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Enumerators are also prohibited from entering people’s homes.
While this is the non-response follow-up phase of the count, people can still self-respond to the census either online, by phone or by mail, and then an enumerator won’t come knocking.
Tony Ramos, the city of Vancouver’s public engagement manager, believes the accelerated census schedule will impact response rates. Many businesses and community organizations signed a petition to extend the statutory requirement by four months to allow as complete a count as possible. Ramos said the city supports an extension that ensures all residents are properly counted.
“Given this change one of the things we’ve done is be more active on social media,” he said.
Over the last couple of months his work has focused on translating census information into Russian, Spanish and Chuukese for partner organizations that can distribute the information. It’s labor intensive but worth it, Ramos said, considering an estimated 14.6 percent of Clark County residents speak a language other than English at home.
The city received about $25,000 from the state Office of Financial Management to spend on census outreach efforts, which has already been spent. Now, the city is looking into whether it can use CARES Act funding to buy more advertising on C-Tran buses and businesses around the Fourth Plain corridor, a historically undercounted area. Another idea is to pay for an insert in the water and sewer bills people receive in the mail. However, the city is tightening its budget due to the pandemic.
“We’re exploring opportunities and seeing if funding is available to conduct those types of efforts,” Ramos said.