April 1 is Census Count Day, Residents Asked to Respond
The 2020 census is going to be much more digital than those of decades past.
There’s two reasons for that — one, this year marks the first time the census can be filled out online. And two, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted officials to encourage residents to fill out the forms as soon as possible, whether online or over-the-phone, or by mail.
The U.S. Census Bureau anticipates that less than 1 percent of Americans will be counted by an in-person census taker — the remainder are expected to respond on their own. Mail will still be a major factor in the census this year, with 95 percent percent of U.S. households projected to receive census mailings in March and April.
The Constitution mandates that every person in the United States be enumerated, or counted, every 10 years. April 1 is the actual Census Day, though the actual counting takes place throughout the spring and into the summer. Results of the decennial census are used to determine everything from federal funding to congressional representation.
Jeff Hanson, who is leading the city of Sioux City’s census outreach efforts, said the city plans to place some 10,000 census information flyers in the free sack lunches being distributed to Sioux City school children. The school district began distributing the lunches to students at various sites after Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended on March 15 that K-12 schools in the state close temporarily to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Another 30,000 census flyers were included in Sioux City residents’ water bills. The city is also planning billboard, bus and electronic advertising.
“We’ve had to kind of change some of our outreach efforts, to more electronic, social media, sending out flyers,” said Hanson, the city’s community development operations manager.
A number of in-person census events were called off due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Erica DeLeon, director of the immigrant and refugee advocacy initiative One Siouxland, said census-related public events the organization planned also were cancelled due to the virus outbreak.
One Siouxland’s initiatives aim to encourage full census counting for “hard-to-count populations,” in this case immigrants and refugees. The Census Bureau also regards children under 5, renters and low-income individuals as “hard to count.”
“With a lot of the communities we work with, we were planning to do in-person events,” DeLeon said, where iPads would have been provided to help people fill out the census. “And, of course, we can’t do that now. So now the conversation has just changed to, ‘How can we make sure that you’re still filling it out, even though you’re doing it on your own.'”
Public facilities in the metro area that once offered free computer and internet access, including libraries, have been shuttered. Those who have smartphone access are encouraged to fill out census forms on their phones, or via the mail or telephone if that isn’t an option.
The Census Bureau has delayed or extended census activities, including door-to-door visits with residents that were originally set to begin late in March or early April. Hanson stressed that the delays should not be taken as an excuse for waiting to fill out the census.
“One thing that we’re trying not to do is, push those extended deadlines too much, because we want to people to fill it out now,” he said.
Iowa and Nebraska had high census response rates as of Saturday afternoon. According to a map on census.gov, 38 percent of Nebraskans had responded to the census on their own, while nearly 38 percent of Iowans had done so — the majority of these over the internet. Just over 33 percent of South Dakotans had completed the census.
2020 census figures
Sioux City’s population, according to a 2018 census estimate, is 82,396 people, a decline of nearly 300 people from 2010 census figures. Between the 2000 census and the 2010 census, the city is estimated to have lost more than 2,200 residents.
Hanson predicted this year’s census figures should be an improvement over those declines.
“I would anticipate an increase from the 2018 estimate,” Hanson said. “I think, between our record number of housing starts, also the economic development projects that have been completed since 2018, we’ll prove that we have additional residents in town.”
The foreign-born account for an increasing proportion of the area’s population — a 2018 report indicated that 75 percent of metro Sioux City’s newcomers between 2010 and 2015 were immigrants. A variety of organizations are working this year to ensure that immigrant communities will take part in the census — including their employers.
The census is available online or over-the-phone in 12 languages besides English — or 13 if Chinese dialects are counted separately. The U.S. Census Bureau says that will enable more than 99 percent of U.S. households to answer in their language.
This will be the first census One Siouxland will participate in. The group was founded in 2017.
DeLeon, who worked with the Mary J. Treglia Community House at the time of the 2010 census, said this time there are a lot more local groups and businesses working on outreach than there were at the last census.
“I certainly don’t remember it being as much of a multi-sector approach as it is this year,” she said.