With a deadline of September 30 looming for reporting on the 2020 U.S. Census, Klickitat County only has about half of its responses completed.
At the direction of Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, and in the midst of some complicated circumstances, the deadline for the U.S. Census Bureau to complete the 2020 population count is fast approaching.
“Measuring America’s People, Places and Economy,” as the Census states, the process aims to capture a comprehensive picture of all households in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. This massive effort is undertaken every 10 years, as defined in the Constitution. Mail invitations were sent to households in mid-March, and counting officially began April 1, 2020. Responses must be received by September 30.
Data is collected through a brief, ten-minute survey, asking questions about the age, income, race and ethnicity of all household members, as well as whether residents rent or own their home, or if they do not have permanent housing. Surveys can be completed by mail, online, or by phone, or with the help of an in-person census taker or enumerator.
But why should residents share this information? What is at stake?
“If they don’t respond to the Census, they’re not allowing their community to get their fair share in hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds,” explains Donald Bendz, spokesperson for the Bureau. “Census data determines how money goes back to the community for everything from road improvements, Medicare and Medicaid, school lunches, Pell Grants, and fire stations,” Bendz continues. “We want to make sure people respond for that reason.”
Among the implications of the 2010 count, Klickitat and Skamania counties shifted from the 15th to the 14th state legislative district. Census population data determines school district lines all the way up to federal congressional representation—and impacts appropriations and outcomes for these areas and more for the entire decade that follows.
Klickitat County has a 50.8 percent self-response rate to date and is ranked 33rd out of all 39 Washington counties. That means just under half of the local estimated population has not yet been counted, with only a few weeks remaining to respond. Washington as a whole is ranked fourth in the nation, however, with 97.3 percent of the total population responding either online or to door-to-door enumerators.
The Bureau had a goal to hire nearly 500,000 enumerators nationwide for this year, anticipating that these field workers may be responsible for recording up to 40 percent of the count. Delays in screening, hiring, and deployment of staff due to the coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on these plans, however. An August 18 memo from the US Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General reports that only 220,000 such enumerators were trained and ready to carry out Non-Response Field Operations (NRFO). The standard July 31 deadline for completing field operations was tentatively extended to October 31 to accommodate unanticipated complications and help ensure a complete and accurate count. However, the Census Bureau reported August 3 that they would conclude operations September 30. Official decision on the extended deadline is pending decision in federal court.
“Our message to Klickitat County is to give our Census takers a break—fill it out now!” Bendz urges, noting that self-response using the online form, mail-in survey, or telephone, saves a trip and potential exposure for field workers. It also saves taxpayer money, and results in the most accurate data. The Spokane Area Field Office oversees the count for much of eastern Washington and has dispatched field staff to visit residents in this region. Reports indicate that NRFO is has reached 86 percent of households— significant progress, but not a complete count.
To fill out the 2020 Census online, to learn more about how this data impacts communities, and to see up to date count information, visit 2020census.gov.