Census takers resume in-person action

By Sheri Williams

Census takers have returned to knocking on doors to help people fill out the national survey after suspending the in-person contact in March due to the coronavirus.

The 2020 census is especially vital to working families because the results are used for many funding priorities that protect workers and provide safety nets and resources. Money for programs such as school lunches are decided by the results, as are the allocation of electoral votes used to determine presidential elections.

“It is absolutely essential that working women and men take the time to fill out and return their census forms,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso. “I urge everyone to take a few minutes today to do it if you haven’t already.”

Census forms were mailed to every household at the beginning of the year and can also be completed online.

While Labor and many nonprofits planned large campaigns to ensure working families understood the importance of the survey, many of those programs were suspended when the pandemic hit.

Still, Californians have largely responded. As of May, about 60 percent of households had returned their census, below the 70 percent that ultimately filled it out a decade ago, when it was last conducted. Experts fear the lower numbers will especially impact vulnerable groups such as immigrants and students, who may be undercounted.

Response rates for some of the state’s most vulnerable people are lower than overall rates, due in part to a lack of information and the social stress many families are currently under. Outreach to non-English speakers and those in rural communities is especially critical.

For those who have not filled out the forms, some may soon receive a knock on the door. In-person census workers will begin outreach to those who may not have received the forms, or those who may need help filling them out.

Some lawmakers are also pushing to extend the deadline for the census because of the pandemic. House Democrats introduced a bill in late May at the request of the U.S. Census Bureau to allow the agency more time for outreach.

So far across the United States, about 90 million households have participated, and a four month extension was authorized in earlier legislation. But faced with social distancing and ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, census officials said it was not enough.