The U.S. Census Bureau’s effort to count all residents is heading into the home stretch with in-person canvassing scheduled to begin next week.
Bowling Green City Commissioner Sue Parrigin, head of the local Complete Count Census Committee, said the Census Bureau is hiring volunteers to go door to door to assist in making sure everyone is counted.
The Census Bureau will continue that phase until Sept. 30. Responses will also continue to be collected online, over the phone and by mail until Sept. 30. The census deadline was originally extended from July 31 to Oct. 31 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the earlier deadline was announced this week.
Parrigin said she believes the new date will have a minimal impact on the count and will allow plenty of time for the door knockers to get to all households that did not self report.
This next phase in the 2020 census comes with Bowling Green’s self-response rate at 57.4% and Warren County’s response rate at 64.4%. The national response rate is 62.8%, with Kentucky’s response rate 65.9%.
The response rate is slightly behind the rate at the same point in the 2010 census, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it harder to compare the two.
“It’s a little better, but it is not where we would like for it to be,” Parrigin said. “This was the first time you could go online and fill out the census. We really thought that was going to help our numbers a lot more. We are just really not seeing the gain we would have liked to have seen.”
Parrigin said the response rate continues to be affected by Western Kentucky University’s closure in March because of the pandemic – leading to 18,000 students being off campus.
Parrigin said students who lived in residence halls have been accounted for with WKU submitting those names, but many students living off-campus who went home haven’t been counted.
“We might be able to recapture some of those if Western does indeed come back with face-to-face sessions in August,” Parrigin said. “It’s an unfortunate timing situation. Hopefully when the students come back in August we can count them.”
The international population is another major challenge, according to Parrigin. During the door-to-door phase, if the census taker who visits a home doesn’t speak the residents’ language, they may request a return visit from a census taker who does speak the language.
All census takers will be identified with an ID badge with their photograph and a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark. The workers may also carry Census Bureau bags and other equipment with the Census Bureau logo.
With the pandemic still ongoing, it presents another challenge for census takers – adhering to safety protocols.
“The door knockers are going to have to take all the CDC guideline protections – wear a mask, keep social distance, sanitize,” Parrigin said. “It is just an added layer to the job to make sure they are not coming in direct contact with people. Nobody anticipated that.”
While the door-to-door phase begins next week, the Census Bureau is using this week to make a push to get the word out in rural areas, with now through Aug. 8 designated Rural Week.
Parrigin said with federal funding determined for the next decade by the final count, it is important to make sure everyone is involved with the process.
“Say a family of five doesn’t get counted, that is $50,000 over the next 10 years that Bowling Green-Warren County would not be receiving in federal funding,” Parrigin said. “We really, really need to get the word out. We hope that this next phase, the door knocking is going to get a whole lot of people. We need everybody to be counted.”