2020 U.S. Census response rate is far below 2010—here’s how to fix that

April 1, 2020, 4:54 PM UTC

Americans aren’t filling out their 2020 Census questionnaires with any sense of urgency this year. Responses to the constitutionally mandated count of the country’s population are only at 36.2% as we go into Census Day—the questionnaire asks where you live on April 1, 2020, even if responses are collected before or after. A decade ago, more than half of the questionnaires had been completed.

The data, from the U.S. Census Bureau, could reflect any number of hesitations or distractions. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has many more focused on their lifestyle or finances than how federal funds will be distributed over the next 10 years. The talk of adding a question about citizenship has frightened and confused many immigrant communities even though the Trump administration was blocked from putting that question on the Census. And field operations have been suspended because of the outbreak.

The 2020 Census is important, though, as it will help determine how many congressional seats each state gets and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending. It could also give the economy a much needed boost as the Census Bureau prepares to hire at least 600,000 temporary employees to assist with data collection.

Federal law mandates the Census Bureau send the count to the President by Dec. 31. And while some groups have suggested the deadline be pushed back given the circumstances so far this year, the Census Bureau has resisted that.

If you’ve not yet replied, you’ve still got time to ensure you’re counted. Here’s how best to do that:

Reply to the 2020 Census online

This is the first time all U.S. households have the chance to respond to the Census online. While that has raised security concerns, officials say they are taking extraordinary security steps to protect the integrity of the count.

Security’s one thing. Access is another, though. People who prefer Apple’s Safari browser have found themselves unable to complete the form online. The Census Bureau is suggesting people who experience problems try another browser.

Respond to the 2020 Census via phone

If you’re unable to access the site or prefer not to respond electronically, English-speaking users can call the Census Bureau to give their replies at 844-330-2020 from 7 a.m. ET until 2 a.m. ET. Sixteen other languages are supported at different numbers on the Census Bureau site.

Respond to the 2020 Census via mail

This one’s hit or miss. Some Census mailings included a written questionnaire, targeting those in areas where officials felt an online response was less likely.

If you didn’t get one, though, and haven’t responded, you could receive a written questionnaire later this month.

Wait for 2020 Census field workers (but there could be problems)

While the Census Bureau does plan to hire more than half a million people to assist with the count, that’s a quarter million less than in 2010. The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has thrown a wrench into the hiring process as well. During a press call last week, Census officials announced that they would suspend all onboarding of new employees until at least April 1, but that they were keeping their hiring website open and had received 2.8 million applications. The onboarding process is a lengthy one, though.

And while Census workers are considered essential employees, if the growing number of stay-at-home orders continues or is extended, citizens might be less likely to open the door to someone they don’t know as they practice social distancing.

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