With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating the news the past two months, it might be easy for Americans to forget they need to fill out their 2020 Census questionnaires.
The questionnaires began arriving in households across the country in mid-March just as the U.S. Census operations suspended field operations in response to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for mitigating the spread of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This month, the bureau began slowly ramping up operations again to complete the hiring process for field workers.
The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and has been every conducted every 10 years since 1790, when 650 U.S. marshals carried out the first count. This year marks the first time people can fill out their census questionnaires online. They also can respond by mail or telephone.
As of May 18, more than 88 million households across the nation had filled out their questionnaires, a self-response rate of 59.6%, according to the census.gov, the Census Bureau’s website. Of those self-responses, 48.2% were online.
Arizona’s overall self-response rate as of May 18 was 56.9%, below the national rate. Maricopa County’s response rate was 60.7%, slight above the national rate. Several West Valley cities’ self-response rates were above the national average, and others were below.
Here’s how they stacked up May 18, from highest to lowest:
Litchfield Park 67.3%
El Mirage 51.5%
Response rates for Sun City and Sun City West, both unincorporated communities in the Northwest Valley, were not available via the online tracker, 2020census.gov/en/response-rates.
COVID-19 affects count timeline
The final day of the 2020 count is scheduled for Oct. 31.
The count originally was scheduled to end July 31, but the bureau pushed the date to Aug. 14 after suspending operations, then asked Congress to extend the count through October. Congress approved the request. It also extended the deadline for delivering apportionment counts to the president and Congress from Dec. 31 to April 30, 2021, and moved the deadline for delivering redistricting data to the states to July 31, 2021, according to the census website.
Census workers initially were slated to complete a count of those living in college dormitories, military barracks and other group domiciles on June 5. The date has been extended to Sept. 3.
The count for people staying at RV parks, marinas and hotels if they do not usually live elsewhere is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 3 to 28, the website states. The schedule for counting the homeless at shelters, encampments, parks, all-night businesses and other sites is under review.
A count of households that didn’t fill out their questionnaires originally scheduled May 13 to July 31 will begin Aug. 11 and run through Dec. 31, according to the website.
Why the count is important
Completing the questionnaire is not only required by the U.S. Constitution, it also ensures that communities across the country get their fair share of federal tax dollars and population-based state-shared funds. An undercount could mean the loss of millions of dollars to Arizona, its counties and cities, resulting in fewer programs and services.
According to the Census Bureau, the Census impacts nearly every aspect of life in America, including:
Goodyear and Litchfield Park impacts
Arizona’s cities depend on population-based allocations from four state shared revenues (sales, income, vehicle license and gas taxes) to provide services like recreation programming, parks maintenance and development, police and fire, and street repairs and maintenance, among others. An accurate count ensures that each city receives its share of revenues.
Based on 2010 Census results, Goodyear receives $343 per person in state shared revenues annually, which equaled about $25.6 million in fiscal 2020, nearly a quarter of the city’s general fund budget. Litchfield Park receives $344 per person in state shared revenues, which equaled $1.878 million in FY2020, also a quarter of the city’s general fund budget.
Results of the 2020 Census could change cities’ annual per-person allocation, so an accurate count is critical.
The 2010 Census recorded Goodyear’s population as 65,275. In 2018, an estimated 82,835 people called the city home. City Manager Julie Arendall said in March that 2019 estimates put the population at just under 89,000.
The 2010 Census recorded Litchfield Park’s population as 5,476. The 2015 mid-decade count recorded the city’s population as 6,152, and in 2019, the population was estimated at 6,809. During a March interview at City Hall, Management Assistant Sonny Culbreth predicted the population will top 7,000.
“At $344 per person, that would be an additional $500,000,” in the city’s general fund budget annually, Assistant City Manager Matthew Williams said during the interview.
Who should be counted and where?
Everyone living in the residence as of April 1, whether they are the homeowner, renter or someone staying in the house temporarily, should be included when responders fill out census forms. Both Goodyear and Litchfield Park have many winter residents with homes in other states or countries. If they were here April 1, they should be counted here, officials said.
The 2020 Census questionnaire asks responders to report the number of people living in their household, permanently or temporarily, and whether they rent or own the home. It also asks for the names, ages, dates of birth, genders and race of those living in the household, and whether they are of Hispanic, Latin or Spanish origin. It does not ask for citizenship status. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 it was unconstitutional to include a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire.
Responses to the census are completely confidential. Under title 13 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot share census data with any other person, organization, court, business or government agency.
What’s on the questionnaire?
As required by the Census Act, the U.S. Census Bureau submitted a list of questions to Congress on March 29, 2018. Based on those questions, the 2020 Census will ask:
For more information on the 2020 Census, visit icount2020.info.