US 2020 Census adapts to COVID-19

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People walk past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census. (AP Photo)

The year 2020 welcomed not only a new decade but also another census. The U.S. Census has taken place since 1790 and seeks to provide an accurate count of every person living in the U.S. and its territories. On Tuesday, April 14, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it is suspending field operations until June 2020 in response to COVID-19.

The census provides data every ten years that guides the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars in the private and public sector as well as thousands of jobs, according to Coralys Ruiz Jiménez, a media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.

These jobs include duties like interacting with the public, processing activities, office work and emuneration.

Field operations include door-to-door interviews with household residents who have yet to fill out the census as well as employee recruitment and meetings with media, community and employment representatives.

The announcement said these suspensions aim to protect the public and Census Bureau employees, ensure a complete and accurate collection of data and follow guidance from government authorities.

“Steps are already being taken to reactivate field offices beginning June 1, 2020, in preparation for the resumption of field data collection operations as quickly as possible following June 1,” said Ruiz Jiménez.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, data is still being collected through self-responses via phone, email and an online form. This phase is expected to conclude on October 31 instead of July 31.

Following the newly revised schedule, the Census Bureau plans to deliver the population total of each state to the president by April 30, 2021. These numbers determine the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The president has 14 days to deliver the counts to Congress then the Bureau will deliver the counts to each state by July 31, 2021, according to the Census 2020 website.

“In order to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is seeking statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts,” said Ruiz Jiménez.

About 51% of U.S. households have responded to the census as of April 20. Utah has the second-highest cumulative self-response rate at 56.2%; about 4% behind Minnesota, according to data found on the census website.

Utah County ranks fourth in response rates for Utah at 62.1%. Residents are still encouraged to respond by phone or online. Households that didn’t respond by April 8 have been sent a paper questionnaire by mail.

Ruiz Jiménez said it is difficult to identify the effects COVID-19 has on census responses. Since this is the first time the Census Bureau has offered an online answering method, so it is unable to accurately compare response data to previous censuses.

“It has never been easier to respond to the census on your own,” said Ruiz Jiménez. “The most important thing you can do is to respond.”

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