CACHE COUNTY – While the Coronavirus has stalled the effort of the U.S. Census Bureau to begin the face-to-face portion of its once-a-decade headcount of American residents, Census officials are generally encouraged by the responses received so far.
As of Mar. 29, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 35 percent of the estimated 140 million U.S. households had responded to its 20-item personal-data questionnaire.
While still incomplete, the pace of responses to the 2020 Census is so far exceeding that recorded by the Census at a similar point in 2010. In that headcount, it took until Oct. 21, 2010 for a final total of 74 percent of American households to self-respond to the Census questionnaire.
Census officials attribute that faster response rate this year to the fact that, in addition to being distributed by the U.S. Postal Service as usual, the 2020 census questionnaire is also available online. By contrast, the 2010 Census form was only distributed by mail.
The statewide response rate for Utah is now at 37 percent, according to Census spokesperson Coralys M. Ruiz Jimenez. At 44.5 percent, the response rate from Cache County households exceeds both state and national averages.
The response rates from two Cache County communities – Hyde Park and and River Heights – were actually 55 percent on Mar. 31.
The response rates from another five local communities were at 50 percent – Lewiston, Nibley, Providence, Richmond and Smithfield.
Communities in Cache County with response rates in the 40- to 50-percent range included Amalga, Hyrum, Logan and Wellsville.
The town of Trenton had a response rate of 34 percent.
The communities of Clarkston, Mendon, Millville and Paradise all had response rates lower than 20 percent, but Ruiz Jimenez said those towns have been singled out for special attention later in the Census effort.
“Some rural towns in Utah are presenting these kinds of numbers,” she explained, “because they are part of our later Update Leave operation.”
Residents of communities earmarked for that effort deliberately did not receive a Census questionnaire by mail in early March. Once the much-delayed face-to-face portion of the Census begins, every household in those communities will be visited by Census workers who will leave an invitation to respond at their front door.
“But these households can still respond to the questionnaire online now,” she added, “even if they did not receive an invitation by mail.”
Despite the encouraging early response rates, the Census effort still faces daunting challenges in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak.
The biggest of those challenges is performing the face-to-face follow-up portion of the Census while still observing social-distance guidelines announced by federal officials. In 2010, for example, the final mail-in response rate of 74 percent still left another 47 million households to be personally surveyed by Census workers.
The face-to-face portion of the Census was originally scheduled to begin on Mar. 15, but was delayed until April 1. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced another two-week delay of that effort on Mar. 28, extending that kick-off until April 15. With President Donald Trump now predicting that social-distancing guidelines will likely still be in effect into June, another delay in face-to-face Census-taking seems inevitable.
Another challenge for the Census is obtaining an accurate headcount of America’s highly-mobile population of college students. Ruiz Jimenez said that the Census originally intended to count college students “where they live and sleep most of the time as of April 1.”
The National Center for Educational Statistics estimated that nearly 20 million students were enrolled at colleges and university when the 2019-20 academic year began last fall.
Census officials still anticipate being able to routinely count post-secondary students who reside off-campus, either by themselves or with their families. But students residing on-campus were intended to be counted there by university and college officials. With most college campuses now closed due to the Coronavirus, accurately counting student who may have returned to their homes of record has become more problematic.