Update on the 2020 Census

by Vicky Siah, CMN student intern

Once per decade, the United States Constitution mandates that all current residents of the US and territories must be accounted for in the US Census. The datasets derived from census-obtained information provide opportunities for additional state funding, business investments, Congressional apportionment, and the creation or adaptation of public policies. The effects of census completion extend far into the forthcoming decade—George Washington University reports a $13,452,034,877 aggregate grant (from 55 federal programs) for all areas in the 2016 fiscal year alone.

With the onset of COVID-19 and with the September 30 census deadline approaching fast, the US Census Bureau has augmented outreach efforts: both in-person and contactless census reminders have been strengthened in accordance to local safety guidelines. 

The State of Oregon and Governor Kate Brown urge Oregonians to complete the 2020 census and magnify Oregonian voices in the legislative branch. Predictions by Polidata and the Brennan Center for Justice indicate that Oregon may gain another seat in Congress if the census shows significant population growth. This would create Oregon’s sixth Congressional seat, allowing Oregon to have a greater influence on key topics. 

Each vote fortifies initiatives (including Head Start, Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF) that positively impact Oregonians’ quality of life. As leverage in the fight for state funding, a sixth seat bears the potential to attract employers and programs to Oregon, enriching local communities. 

The Bureau’s statistics show Oregon at 90% enumerated as of August 30, but with a month left before the deadline, the census can still be completed at 2020census.gov/en.

New methods during the pandemic

According to US Census Bureau Director Dillingham, measures to accelerate census counting are underway. The creation of training sessions, combined with increased electronic device availability, prioritizes the accuracy and speed of information gathering. Given a reduced timeframe (due to COVID-19 interference), these new policies ensure that the federal statutory deadline for Oregon apportionment counts are met.

Traditionally, census workers conduct doorstep visits to non-responding households. Following a shutdown-related break, census workers have recommenced these visits—observing six-feet distancing recommendations, frequent sanitization measures, and the observation of a mask requirement. Furthermore, the Bureau supplements low-responding census tracts with the Mobile Questionnaire Assistance program—facilitating further face-to-face assistance in grocery stores, town centers, and pharmacies.

Follow-up services have also expanded to include phone solicitations, emails, and a seventh mailing of the paper questionnaire. By calling and emailing residents, the Bureau targets areas below a 50% rate of response and aims to simplify the census process. Census workers are currently undergoing training to communicate via phone, and in the case of no response, workers are instructed to leave a voicemail for callback purposes. Each strategy is designed to maintain or increase census completion despite the pandemic.