Census Bureau Preparing For 2020 Count
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A community has 675 billion reasons to make sure every resident is counted on the Census.
The 2020 Census may still be a year and a half away but the bureau is already preparing for it. The effort is to count where every single person living in America puts their head down at night.
Those numbers ultimately lead to determining the number of seats in the U.S. House - and the Berkshires know what it is like to lose one of those -- but maybe more importantly, some $675 billion worth of federal funds are dispersed based on those numbers.
"It matters to every community that every person is counted," said Georgia Lowe from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Lowe was joined by representatives from the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Office on Thursday to give a presentation to various organizations at Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's Fifth Thursday dinner. Lowe outlined the number of steps the organization is taking to help reach the historically difficult to reach populations.
Lowe estimates a greater number of people living in America in 2020, estimating some 330 million living in 140 million housing units. Letters will be sent in March 2020 to every address -- after spending recent years working with partners to ensure all addresses are recorded properly -- and residents are asked to respond with some information about their households. This year people have two new options -- responding online or by telephone.
Lowe said answering online will be the most effective and less costly way for the bureau to do the work and she is hoping most people take advantage of that. For those who don't respond through that option, the questionnaire will be mailed out and people will be asked to fill them out and mail them back.
Finally, in May the addresses that have not responded will be sent to enumerators, who will knock on doors in an attempt to get in touch with those living there.
The Census will also be available in more languages this year. There will be 12 non-English options for the questionnaire and literature in 59 languages.
It is a monumental task and one that has plenty of challenges. Particularly, the biggest holdup tends to be a distrust in government.
"That one is pretty always there. It is a big challenge," Lowe said of the distrust in government.
Lowe said the information is protected and Census workers are required to take a lifetime oath to keep the information confidential. That confidentiality has no bounds, she said. It can't be given to courts, immigration officials, or even the president of the United States.
At the end of the Census, the total numbers reported per tract are released but any personal information about households in the Census is not released until 72 years later.
State officials said a number of state programs such as WIC, and Section 8 housing programs are also based on that data. In many cases, transient and low-income populations are difficult to count. Children under the age of 5 tend to be underreported and funding for those programs such as Head Start are dependent on those figures.
Lowe said the goal is to get every person counted and the organization is leaning on local communities to help. The organization is looking to partner with local groups to help spread the word.
Mark Maloy of BRPC was on a Complete Count Committee for the Berkshires in 2010. He said BRPC will be looking to create a countywide committee for 2020. The hope is that the Complete Count Committee will encompass a wide spectrum of representatives from education to business to healthcare to community organizations to develop strategies and messages to reach everybody living here. Those groups operate independently from the Census.
"These committees develop a campaign for their communities to get the word out," Lowe said.
That means advertising, kickoff events, inviting Census Bureau officials to speaking occasions, and producing messages to help reach the community. Complete Count Committees can be created at any level so while there is a Berkshire County planned to be formed, individual municipalities can form them too.
"It really comes down to the trusted voices in the community," she said.
Lowe said the Census has a separate strategy to count the homeless population. And when it is all over, has internal ways to double check the data to make sure people aren't being counted twice.
The Census also means a lot of jobs. Lowe said with a currently low unemployment rate, finding workers may be troublesome. The organization will be looking for recruiting assistants, field supervisors, and enumerators (those who knock on the door). Lowe said hiring local people to do the enumeration work is ideal because people are more likely to talk to somebody who lives in the area than an outsider.
"It is a temporary part-time job but they pay fairly well," Lowe said.
The Census has also developed new tools to better strategize the outreach. A response outreach area mapper tool collected data from a number of other sources and estimated the percentage of people who won't respond on their own per tract. Those with a greater percentage shows there will need to be more focus on collecting that information.
BRPC Executive Director Thomas Matuszko said the Census will be a big priority for the planning organization. The Berkshires have been losing population and ensuring that those numbers aren't undercounted has an added importance because the numbers will influence a significant amount of money for the next decade.
"We are really trying to build a program," he said.
Tags: BRPC, census,
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