Apr 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Census self-reporting on track despite coronavirus disruptions

The Census form.
Census materials. Photo Illustration: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the Census Bureau says its self-reporting numbers for 2020 are on track.

Why it matters: The census determines how federal funding is allocated across state and local governments, including funding for emergency response and public health infrastructure.

  • Wednesday is the reference date for responses, meaning you should include everyone living in your household as of April 1 when filling out the form.

Where it stands: As of Tuesday, about 50 million households — a national response rate of 34.7% — have responded to the census, said Michael Cook, chief of the U.S. Census Bureau's Public Information Office.

Yes, but: Since the Census Bureau has delayed fieldwork and hiring of field staff, there's a concern that people will mistakenly think that the national count is no longer happening due to the coronavirus shutdowns.

  • For example, the bureau has not been able to visit college campuses to ensure students respond. And many students have returned home or are staying with friends — causing confusion about which address to report.
  • Cook says students should use the address where they usually live during the semester.

The biggest hurdles are trying to reach the historically hard-to-count populations, including those who speak English as a second language, black men between the ages of 18 and 29, and children under five years old.

Digital communications are filling the void left by the delay in hiring field workers and in-person events. Cook said the bureau is relying heavily on TV, radio and social media ads to remind people to take action.

  • New York City is using peer-to-peer texting to send reminders, and it quickly converted ads on the subway (which is empty these days) to digital and media ads.

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