Less than 60% of Arizona households have self-responded to the 2020 U.S. Census as officials prepare to knock on the doors of residences that have yet to complete the decennial questionnaire.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 58.6% of Arizona households have self-responded to the census as of Tuesday, whether via online, mail or phone. The national average as of Tuesday is 61.9%. Minnesota households have a 71.5 % self-response rate, the highest in the nation.
“Over 91,600,000 housing units have self-responded to the census so far, with 34 days left until the official start of nonresponse follow up,” Al Fontenot, associate director for Decennial Census Programs, said in a telephone conference Wednesday morning. “We have targeted a 60.5 self-response rate by the official start of NRFU, and now we’re at 61.9% self-response. We wanted to design a safe, secure and easy internet response option to allow people to easily respond using a computer, a tablet, or a smart phone. We wanted it to be safe, secure, easy, and dependable.”
As of Wednesday, over 73 million housing units have responded using the internet, which Mr. Fontenot says has not had a single minute of downtime since online responding started March 12. Over 17 million have responded using a paper form and another 1.2 million have been over the phone.
Since COVID-19 started to have a greater effect on the country in March, the Census Bureau has had to adjust operations to protect the health and safety of employees and the public.
Most notable are the changes to the end of the self-response phase, which is now Oct. 31 as opposed to July 31. That has meant having to shift the delivery of apportionment counts to the president and redistricting counts to the states, initially slated for Dec. 31 and April 1, 2021, respectively. However, the Census Bureau has requested those dates now be April 30 and July 31, 2021, respectively.
Also, census workers will now be conducting the Nonresponse Followup Operation from Aug. 11-Oct. 31. Between 248 area census offices and 500,000 employees, the Census Bureau is conducting soft launches of NRFU to ensure the full operation runs smoothly when it begins in August.
Cycle 1A involves 10,000 enumerators, who are training as of Tuesday and will start in-person follow-ups on July 16. Those locations are in Gardner, Maine; Kansas City, Missouri; Beckley, West Virginia; Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, New Orleans; and Boise, Idaho. Cycle 1B, which was first announced Wednesday, will take place July 30 in Crystal City, Virginia; Hartford, Connecticut; State College, Pennsylvania; Evansville, Indiana; Wichita, Kansas; and Tacoma, Washington. Training starts July 14. The last cycle will have close to 40 offices participating, with training July 21 and deployment July 30.
As far as hiring goes, Tim Olson, associate director for Field Operations, says the Bureau has nearly 3 million applicants available to become temporary workers for nonresponse follow up. However, while they are no longer actively recruiting, the Bureau is receiving 1,500 applications daily, permitting the them to have the ability to fill all positions should some applicants drop out.
For the nonresponse follow-up, the Bureau plans to field 500,000 census takers to go door-to-door. However, with the excess in applicants, more than 900,000 job offers have been extended and accepted. Mr. Olson says 700,000 of those have completed fingerprinting and 500,000 have passed backgrounds, with about three weeks left for officials to complete that process.
“We have not seen any substantial decline or declination from people that we are hiring due to the virus and we’re optimistic that will continue going forward,” Mr. Olson said in Wednesday’s teleconference. “This is one of the reasons we over hire. To make sure we have enough employees in every area to complete the census on time. We are in an incredibly good place to be fully-staffed and conduct nonresponse follow up as planned.”
Another operation the Census Bureau is getting ready to launch is mobile questionnaire assistance, which usually involved sending staff to community events and locations where people naturally congregated in low-responding areas: festivals, libraries, parades, churches, etc. However, with COVID-19 affecting operations, MQA will launch July 13 in locations where people go for essential services: grocery store and pharmacy entrances, libraries that have reopened, and other locations.
The Census Bureau has required all employees who have contact with the pubic to wear face coverings. To date, over 40 million personal protective equipment items have been acquired by the Bureau, to include masks, gloves, wipes and sanitizer bottles.
MQA staff is also working to put up flyers in low-responding neighborhoods with a final plea to self-respond before workers start knocking in August.
Update Leave is another operation the Bureau is conducting and occurs in areas where most housing units either don’t have mail delivered to the physical location of the unit or census officials can’t verify the information of the housing unit. Mr. Fontenot said there are 6.8 million housing units in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that fall under this category. The operation involves a census employee physically delivering an invitation to the residence.
“It does not have a high contact like an interview, but we still have to have people walking around neighborhoods delivering census invitations,” Mr. Fontenot said.
However, with COVID-19, the Bureau suspended those operations March 18, when only 10.8% had been completed. But officials started picking it back up in early May, and as of Wednesday, 99.09% of those 6.8 million units have been provided an invitation.
“The areas that we are not yet complete are primarily a handful of American Indian reservations that have been closed to outsiders and most have since reopened for our work,” Mr. Olson said. “The largest area that is probably contributing primarily to that last small portion of a percent is Navajo Nation. It’s the largest tribal area in the country. It has been closed for much of the Update Leave operation but recently their leadership granted permission to the Census Bureau to resume the Update Leave field operations on their lands.”
As of Tuesday, the Bureau is more than 50% complete in reaching those remaining areas, Mr. Olson said.
The census is conducted every 10 years and is important for more than just how many people reside in the United States. Population counts affect the number of congressional seats for each state; funds for schools, streets and highways; and where companies decide to invest and build new facilities.
In Arizona, Pima County has a 62.7% self-response rate, highest in the state. Maricopa County is right behind at 62.4%. Yuma and Coconino counties are the only ones below 50% — 43.4% and 39.3%, respectively, as of Tuesday.
Municipality-wise, Oro Valley leads with a 75% self-response rate, followed by Sahuarita at 72.8% and Gilbert at 72.6%. Litchfield Park, Fountain Hills, Chandler and Peoria are the other Valley communities above 67.7% in self-response rate.
Until Oct. 31, households can continue to respond online or by phone. Visit www.census2020.com for more information on the U.S. Census and how to complete the questionnaire before workers start knocking.
If a family member is not home when a census taker visits, the worker will leave a notice of their visit with information about how to respond online or by phone. As necessary, they will make additional visits to collect responses from the household, according to a release.
Census takers will follow social distancing protocols and all applicable state and local requirements regarding health and safety. They can be easily identified by a valid government ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date on the badge. To confirm a census taker’s identity, the public may contact their regional census center to speak with a representative.
By law, Census officials and employees are not allowed to use anyone’s personal information for any reason other than for the census.
“All census workers take an oath of confidentiality. We take this oath very seriously,” Mr. Olson said. “If any of us were to violate that oath and reveal any information about any individual address — a household or a business — we can be prosecuted and would face up to 5 years in jail and/or $250,000 in fines. This oath binds every Census employee... for the rest of our lives, not just when we’re employed by the Bureau.”