NAVAJO COUNTY — Time to fill out the census. And get this – there’s money in it for you.
Well, maybe not you. But for your town, your county and your school district — thanks to the flow of federal money to governments at every level. The Census count not only determines the flow of $670 billion in federal funding to local jurisdictions every year, it determines the allocation of seats in Congress and electoral college votes.
Census forms started arriving in the mail last week. The package should include a 12-digit identifying code for each household, which would allow them to fill out the 10-question Census form online or on the phone.
Mailing the forms this week launched a long and complicated process of trying to count every single person in the country. The whole process will extend from March 12 to July 31. The easy part is counting people who live in a house with a street address, with Census workers knocking on the doors of people who don’t initially return the forms or go online.
The hard part comes when trying to count people without a standard street address, people trying to dodge the Census workers, the homeless, people in minority neighborhoods skeptical of officials and people living on Native American reservations.
The Census is also hiring people to take the forms door to door to reach people who don’t respond to the initial mailing. The job pays $16.50 an hour, plus 59 cents per mile. To apply, go to 2020census.gov/jobs.
The Census also hopes to work with organizations to help people fill out their forms or connect to the online forms.
Studies suggest the 2010 census missed about 16 million people, but counted about 9 million people twice.
Experts believe that in the last census Whites were overcounted by about 1 percent, since they’re more likely to own two homes. Hispanics were undercounted by about 3 to 5 percent, since they’re less likely to have a separate street address and may avoid Census officials for fear of questions about their immigration status. Native Americans were undercounted by perhaps 5-12 percent, especially those living on reservations. The large reservation populations in Arizona suggests the state is losing out on millions in federal funding — as well as population that would count towards gaining a seat in Congress.
Oddly enough, children were undercounted by 2 percent – since many people mistakenly assumed children don’t count. That amounts to some 1.3 million kids, with a net undercount for Hispanic children of some 7.5 percent.
“Count everyone living with you – grandparents, foster children, cousins, couch surfers, basement tenants those folks in the RV in your backyard,” said Kim Robinson, a partnership specialist with the US Census Bureau.
Robinson said 95 percent of households will get a notice in the mail. The results of the survey are strictly confidential for 72 years. A Census worker can go to jail for disclosing any of the data gathered.
“The forms are 100 percent confidential and kept locked down for 72 years. All employees are sworn for life to keep your information confidential. So if you receive regular US postal delivery, look for your forms in the mail. If you lose the identifying number, a Census taker will drop off a form.”
The Census will send out reminders on again in April.
Unfortunately, Arizona has a relatively low “self-response rate,” which means it takes a lot of nagging by Census takers to ensure complete counts. In the 2010 Census, Arizona had a self-response rate of just 61 percent. Only a handful of states did worse. The best states had self-response rates of 70-74 percent. The Navajo Nation had a self-response rate of just 29 percent.
Apache County’s response rate was just 39 percent and Navajo County’s 40 percent.
Even neighboring cities often had very different response rates. Snowflake’s response rate was 64 percent, nearby Show Low’s response rate was 43 percent and Pinetops rate was just 38 percent.
Census workers must go to a lot more effort if people don’t respond to the initial mailing.
“If by May 15 we don’t hear from you, then census takers will start knocking on your door,” said Robinson. In areas with only a post office box or places like the reservations without regular street addresses Census takers will work throughout the summer going from place to place trying to get a complete county. Census takers have also been working on strategies for counting the nation’s growing homeless population as well.
Every Census worker should have a federal ID badge, a tote bag with a Census logo and a cell phone with a Census logo.
The 10 questions on the basic census form mostly seek information about who’s living in each household, including age, sex and relationships. The Census Bureau does a separate community survey later, which asks a sample of people a much more detailed set of questions. After much debate, the Census Bureau decided not to ask a question about citizenship and residency status, for fear even more immigrants and Hispanics would avoid filling out a Census form – exacerbating the existing undercount.
Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org