The 2020 Census: How Corona Virus Affected It

Apr 2, 2020 11:20 PM ET

WASHINGTON – This was the year the Census Bureau was prepared for a gigantic task – to recreate the census of nearly 330 million Americans for the digital age in an age of enormous national divisions and obstacles to accurate counting.

Then the corona virus came.

Early signs indicate that the first part of the process – getting as many Americans as possible to respond via the census website, mail, or phone – went well.

However, the severe virus-related restrictions on mobility and personal contact have completely disrupted a decade of planning how to accurately count those who do not respond and reach particularly hard-to-reach sections of the population. Fair political representation and billions of federal dollars depend on the outcome.

Wednesday April 1st is the day of the census, the official start of the ten-year census that began 230 years ago. Below you will find questions and answers about the special challenges of this year and more.

Census Day is usually a way to draw attention to the census and its importance. Almost all households have already received instructions on how to fill out the form. But April 1 is also a basic indicator – the office’s mandate is to count all the people who are members of a household that day, including those who are often overlooked, such as young children, boarding students and relatives.

Households that cannot cope The 12 question form is regularly provided with postcards, and those who have not answered by mid-April will receive paper forms by mail. It is planned that from May 27, census participants will find those who ignore the memories. The reaction is prescribed by federal law. Those who fail to do so can be fined $ 100, but the office says that no fine has been imposed since the 1970s.

Approximately 38 percent of households have replied since the online portal opened on March 10. This corresponds to the office’s forecasts. To see how your state, city, or neighborhood is doing, contact the Census Bureau tracks responses daily and the City University of New York publishes maps that provide an even more detailed breakdown.

However, other aspects of the count face unexpected obstacles. A nationwide count of around half a million homeless people over several days has already been postponed. Mailing census form mailings has slowed because the office has shaved employees in regional centers in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Tuscon, Arizona. Call the census or need other help.

The office wants as many households as possible to respond to the census early, as it is very expensive and difficult to track down non-answerers and persuade them to answer the questionnaire. Therefore, a massive flash of advertising and awareness was planned to reach at federal, state and local levels.

But the corona virus has turned much of this campaign upside down, which provided for overcrowded public events that focused on the census. Promise Neighborhoods, a group from Allentown, Pennsylvania, had to discard a local basketball tournament in which hundreds had participated. Chicago sets up 100 computer kiosks for collection points at the online census, but residents who are haunted by pandemics do not gather to use them. Detroit Census organizers have canceled 90 public events designed to increase the workforce.

Census supporters cannot attract crowds, knock on doors, and improvise new ways to speed up the response. Detroit plans to attract 600 neighborhood bloc groups to fight for the highest census response. A California group has canceled their door-to-door campaign and is instead distributing census information to places like food banks. Everywhere, state and local campaigns have increased social media advertising. In Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, a campaign is targeting Hispanic households that have traditionally been difficult to count by inserting Spanish-language ads into Facebook videos that can be reached through Spanish websites.

The Census Bureau has not fully figured that out. The office had planned to send hundreds of thousands of censuses to track tens of millions of households and individuals who are unresponsive. The plan was to record their answers to the census questions on specially equipped iPhones. Whether and how this happens depends on whether the pandemic subsides enough to make such a knock safe.

Experts say that much of this work can be done fairly safely in porch interviews where no census taker has to join a household. An unanswered question is whether households that have ignored repeated requests to complete the census will even open their doors to strangers amid an epidemic.

The office has extended the final countdown deadline by two weeks to mid-August. Officials say another renewal has not been ruled out – but the farther away it is from the publication of Census Day, the less likely that people will consider filling out the form, experts say.

According to federal law, the office must deliver the total population to the president by December 31. The states will use these sums to redistribute political districts in 2021. How exactly these sums will be is anything but easy to say.

In 2010, more than 98 percent of households sent census forms were counted to the end of the count – an impressive achievement. However, the census lacked households that the office didn’t know existed. Some households did not report all who lived there, and not all population groups were counted equally. According to the office, 16 million people were missing in 2010, 8.5 million were counted twice and another 1.5 million were either accidentally or incorrectly counted. Minorities and small children were counted; Non-Hispanic whites were over-counted.

The 2020 census was faced with a major task just to address these issues, and the pandemic is making work much more daunting, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census expert and advisor to a number of groups who are trying to get an accurate count.

“A successful census counts all communities equally well,” she said. “Given the challenges of the corona virus, I’m concerned about the consistency of the census operations and the effort between states and communities.

“And that is a fundamental factor in assessing not only whether the census is acceptably accurate, but also whether it is fair.”

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