If this were “an ordinary time,” there would be an army of Census “enumerators” all over the United States, following up on households that had not yet filled in the 2020 form.
One such Census Bureau hire is Bedford’s Rich Daugherty, who has been hired as a supervisor of those field workers known as enumerators. If it were not for the stay at home and social distancing orders now in place in Massachusetts, Daugherty would be overseeing the work of enumerators in the city of Waltham. That job is on hold now until the Census Bureau is given an “epidemiologically sound, data-driven basis to resume operations.” Daugherty does know that 10 enumerators have been hired to do follow-up operations here in Bedford.
The field workers are tasked with going door-to-door to encourage households to complete the form, which, as you may recall from your own experience, is quite simple, unlike some previous censuses that asked questions in depth.
The latest rankings show that 71.8% of Bedford households self-responded to the 2020 Census! The town of Stow topped the list of self-responders at 82%.
In Massachusetts, the 2020 Census self-responses total 58.8% as of May 3. Middlesex County did even better, with a self-response rate of 65.7%.
Despite these findings, there is still a monumental task ahead to complete the count. The decennial census is a costly government expense: the 2020 Census originally was estimated to cost approximately $15.6 billion. The Census was roiled in its planning from early on, long before the pandemic, with heated controversy over its format. You may recall the controversy last year over whether the question of citizenship could be included. Many feared that including the question would discourage as many as an estimated 9 million people of color or immigrants from filling out the census, resulting in an undercount. In July 2019, the Supreme Court, in a divided decision, ruled that this would be a violation of federal law.
As normal life has been disrupted because of the coronavirus pandemic, the job for the Census Bureau has become even more difficult. The timeline for completing the count has had to be extended. Daugherty says he will be notified when it’s safe to begin the fieldwork. In its almost daily press releases, the Bureau firmly states it believes that an accurate count will be possible, even if other government data sources may need to be tapped to complete the picture. When you consider the varied populations that must be counted–the homeless, persons living in group quarters, those in transitory situations, dispersed residents in remote geographical locations, Native Americans living on pueblos- you develop a respect for the enormity of the task.
The Importance of an Accurate Count Can’t Be Overestimated
Census results have a major impact on redistricting and on the distribution of federal funds to municipalities for everything from food stamps to road building to support for public education. Research from Journalist’s Resource points out these facts:
“The census itself does not determine federal funding. Data derived from the decennial census helps create other data sets that are used to determine how the federal government will distribute money to states and local governments as well as individual households and organizations.”
Timing of a Phased Restart?
And what about timing? As of May 4, the Bureau says it will begin a phased restart of some 2020 field operations in select geographic areas this week. Staff will receive safety training to observe social distancing protocols and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been ordered for all field staff.