Everyone counts, or at least should

Heard much about the 2020 U.S. census lately?

Me neither.

Kathy and I sent back the census form we received in the mail several months ago, so we weren’t subsequently contacted by a census worker, either in person, through the mail or online. That’s fine.

But back when I edited the Bee and Herald years ago, we would always receive news releases about the upcoming census starting in years ending in nine and continuing well into the first few months of years ending in zero. Traditionally the official census counting date is April 1 in years ending in zero.

This year I either missed news stories about the count, or there hasn’t been nearly the publicity we used to get.

The COVID pandemic is no doubt responsible for much of the change. The pandemic hit the United States for real in mid-March of this year, just a few weeks before the April 1 official count date. That threw in-person door-to-door census takers for a loop. 

A news story that came out in April quoted a statistical survey that showed four in 10 U.S. residents said they would not open their door to census takers because of their fear of COVID-19. 

The U.S. Bureau of the Census struggled under those conditions. Several “restarts” were announced over the late spring and early summer, with deadline dates extended several times. 

One of those extensions, announced in mid-summer, gave a new official final count date of Oct. 31. Then just a short time ago that date was moved up by a month, to the end of September.

President Trump wanted the census form to require residents to state whether they are U.S. citizens or not. That generated strong opposition across the nation, with several lawsuits working their way through federal courts in 2019. Nearly all were decided in favor of the plaintiffs and against the president, who had strongly demanded inclusion of a citizenship question.

So the administration announced it would no longer demand a citizenship answer from the census. But determining who is or is not a citizen, federal authorities said, will be still be ferreted out through other government agencies.

The census is crucial for several reasons. 

First, its numbers form the basis for apportionment of federal and state electoral districts for the following decade. New electoral district lines are drawn by state legislatures after each decennial census, and they remain as drawn for the next 10 years.

Second, the number of U.S. representatives in the U.S. House allotted to each state depends on the census count. Some states are expected to gain as many as three representatives for the 2020s, and some will lose one or two. (Iowa will no doubt remain as it is now, with four representatives in the U.S. House.)

Third, more than $600 billion in annual federal funding to states, counties and cities depends on how many people live in those units. Those numbers are determined by the census, and they stay that way for the next 10 years.

I wanted to know what I could learn about Greene County’s 2020 census. I started at the courthouse, where County Auditor Jane Heun referred me to County Sanitarian Chuck Wenthold, who she said is the go-to person in our county government for census matters.

Chuck had no information about anyone on the ground here dealing with the census, but he gave me the name and phone number of the Midwest regional census director in Chicago. “I’d start with him,” Chuck said.

So I did. I called the number, got a long voicemail response, and finally was directed to leave my name and phone number, as well as the purpose of my call. I said I was a columnist with the Jefferson, Iowa, Herald newspaper and would like to get some information about the 2020 census in Greene County, Iowa.

That was on Monday, Aug. 3. I still haven’t had my call returned.

So I went online, and was surprised to learn that the State Library of Iowa in Des Moines is Iowa’s go-to census headquarters.

I called the State Library, and was referred to Gary Krob, coordinator of the State Data Center. From Mr. Krob I learned the following:

• As of this past Monday, Greene County’s response rate to census inquiries stood at 67 percent. That’s below the state average of 69.3 percent for counties, and ranked Greene County about 67th among the state’s 99 counties for response rate. That’s not very good. 

• Sept. 30 is indeed the drop-dead date for census responses. Door-to-door census takers are already at work in Greene County and elsewhere in the state. If they are unable to get a response from house occupants, and unable to get the required information about that particular home from neighbors or elsewhere, those occupants will go uncounted.

• Residents who have not yet returned a census form by email or in hard copy may go online at https://my2020census.gov/ or on the phone by calling 844-330-2020.

Greene County and its towns need every one of their residents to be counted. Greene County’s official 2010 population was 9,336, a decline of more than 1,000 residents or about 10 percent from its 2000 official count of 10,366. The county’s highest population was back in the year 1900, at 17,820.

Jefferson offers a similar example among the county’s cities. The Jefferson population in 2010 stood at 4,345, about where it was in 1950. Jefferson’s greatest population was recorded in 1970, at 4,735.

If you haven’t yet been counted in the 2020 census, or if you know of someone who hasn’t been counted, you’d be doing the county, and your town if you live in one, a favor by letting the census folks know by phone or email. 

As stated in formal invitations, “Your presence is requested ...”

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
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Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161