If Bedford folk think Covid-19 has presented the Town with extraordinary challenges, just think of what the US Census Bureau is facing in trying to get an accurate count of the US population in this unprecedented time.
According to the latest results from the Bureau, Bedford has chalked up a 76.1% response rate; 69.6% of those responding did so via the internet, which is not surprising considering that most residents have internet access. Massachusetts has a 64.1% response rate while across the country about 62% of households have responded since mid-March. Bedford’s response is commendable but there still remain uncounted residents.
There will be instructions on how to fill out the form, which you can complete online, by phone, or you can mail in your form. Instructions are available in 13 languages. Remember, an accurate count of Bedford residents benefits all of us.
In normal times, after the first wave of responses, the Bureau would follow up with workers in each community going literally door-to-door, in an effort to reach those who had not filled out the form. In 2010, two town residents, Alma Hart and Lyrl Ahern, were engaged in this effort.
Not so this year. The Bureau has been struggling to make decisions that would assure the safety of workers and at the same time, achieve the highest possible rate of return on the forms. So much depends on the data collected: financial aid to towns, schools, hospitals, disaster relief, and services of all kinds rests on the population “numbers.” As has been reported earlier, there is no public access to the 2020 Census for 72 years but the data collected becomes the foundation for aid to municipalities almost immediately.
At this writing it appears that the door to door effort will not take place this summer. Instead, the Bureau launched a new plan on July 14 termed the Mobile Questionnaire Assistance (MQA) to help people respond online. More than 3,000 staff will begin going into communities with the lowest 2020 response rates to encourage and assist people with responding. Locations for MQAs will include grocery stores and markets, food banks, laundromats, restaurants, and grab-and-go eateries, unemployment offices, back to school drives, places of worship, and libraries. Local census response representatives will help people complete the census on a 2020 Census tablet or on their own device while practicing state and local social distancing protocols.
MQA is part of the Census Bureau’s final push to encourage people to complete the 2020 Census before the Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) operation begins nationwide on August 11.
Given Bedford’s high rate of Census returns, it’s unlikely we will be selected for the MQA program but entirely possible that some area towns would be candidates for this assistance. Lawrence, for example, has only a 48.2% response rate.
One troubling question: how accurately will undocumented residents be counted? It’s been suggested that this population will choose not to respond out of fear, despite the Bureau’s repeated insistence that all results are confidential. An undercount would seriously distort the Census results.