ST. LOUIS – The 2020 Census is off and running, but at a slow pace.
Mayor Lyda Krewson told St. Louisans on her Facebook page that as of March 26, only 22 percent of residents had sent in their answers to the census questions.
“But with more and more folks spending time at home because of #COVID19, now is the perfect time to complete your survey! It takes just a few minutes and can be done online!” she said.She pointed out that the census results would determine how much federal funding the city gets for important programs including highways, schools and health care.
“It’s time to stand up and be counted by the U.S. Census Bureau!” Krewson urged.
The 2020 census started for most of the U.S. in March when notifications started being mailed out and its self-response website went live. The head count officially kicked off in January in remote Alaska villages that are difficult to reach.
This is the first decennial census that has encouraged most people to answer the questionnaire online, although respondents can also answer by telephone or mailing back a form. The Census Bureau is hoping a strong self-response rate will decrease the need for census takers to knock on doors for face-to-face interviews this summer.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., worries that the online approach will lead to the undercounting of blacks and other minorities in hard-to-count areas.
“Having the census online can be a way of continuously undercounting the black population,” Bass said.
A week after starting its 2020 count, the Census Bureau suspended field operations for two weeks out of concern about the health and safety of its workers and the U.S. public from the coronavirus.
The decision to suspend field operations came just a few days after the Census Bureau announced it would delay sending out census takers to count students in off-campus housing and postpone sending workers to grocery stores and houses of worship to help people fill out the questionnaire.
But some workers are already in the field. They were primarily dropping off paper questionnaires at places with no fixed addresses and large numbers of seasonal workers, or preparing for counts in a few weeks of the homeless and people who live in group housing such as college dorms, nursing homes and prisons.
The bureau also said the deadline for ending the 2020 census at the end of July could be adjusted as needed.
Census Bureau officials said they were continuing to monitor all operations related to the once-a-decade head count amid the global pandemic. As of March 18, 11 million households had answered the census questions.
The Census Bureau is aiming to hire as many as 500,000 workers for the 2020 census, and so far has 31,000 workers on the payroll.
Arturo Vargas, the CEO of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group active in census outreach efforts, said he supported the Census Bureau’s decision.
“Right now, the easiest way to make sure residents are counted is through self-response online, by phone, or by mail,” Vargas said. “Emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic are precisely why our government needs accurate census data.”
“It’s a challenge every 10 years to get any American to fill out the census. … Some people are fearful of giving the government more information,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said. “But every 10 years, that challenge has been especially tough in minority communities, who sometimes are more disconnected from government than other communities.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.