With delays from the COVID-19 pandemic and a slow response rate at a state level, county and city officials continue urging residents to participate in the 2020 Census.
While parts of the Census agenda — such as door-to-door visits to nonresponsive residents and the end date for data collection — have been postponed from July 31 to Oct. 31, many households continue to respond virtually. Overall, Alameda County’s self-response rate (SRR) is at 61.1% as of April 25, making it sixth in the state, with Pleasanton and Livermore returning at 68.2% and 68.5%, respectively. Dublin trails at 62.2%, with one tract returning only a 43.4% SRR.
On June 1, Census 2020 volunteers will begin visiting nonresponsive homes in person, while complying with any necessary health mandates. At this point, while the overall response to the Census is slow, responses are coming in. Stephanie Kim, senior director of Census 2020 at the United Way, said there may be some correlation between the slow rate and the pandemic.
“A lot of people have been trying to draw lines between COVID-19 and response rates, and nationally, there are some groups that have been comparing data,” Kim said. “So far, they haven’t seen any striking statistical relationships . . . That doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty stressed the importance of an accurate count despite hurdles raised by the coronavirus. Census participation determines each community's share of federal funding for health care, schools, roads and more for the next decade. Undercounting can cost cities thousands of state and federal dollars.
“We cannot allow the pandemic to cause an undercount of our communities,” Haggerty said in an email to The Independent. “While operating in accordance with all public health mandates, we must continue our outreach.”
Prior to the shelter-in-place order, hundreds of Census promotional events were planned, and questionnaire help centers were slated to open all over the state. In light of social-distancing mandates, these plans have been canceled or postponed. Haggerty noted the organizations participating in the Complete Count Committee remain deeply committed and have been remarkably resilient in pivoting their outreach efforts to phone banking, targeted messaging and sharing Census information at food distributions at schools and faith communities.
The City of Dublin is divided into 10 tracts, with nine responding between 55% and 74%. The low-response tract is in the south-central part of the city, attracting the attention of phone bank volunteers. There is still time to reach homes before door-to-door efforts are made starting June 1. Volunteers have pivoted attention to that area, adding 800 responses just last week, ranking the city 145th in the state.
“The 2020 Census is important because it brings federal funding to our community for schools, roads and housing,” said Shari Jackman, Dublin public information officer. “We’ve been promoting it heavily within our community, and while we have a higher response rate than the state average, we would still like to achieve a 100% response rate.”
Pleasanton’s high SRR is well above the state average of 54.6%, placing it 42 in the state. City Manager Nelson Fialho was pleased to note that several tracts in his city are above a 70% average and said the pandemic has not slowed his community down at all.
“During the shelter-in-place order, we are still encouraging residents to respond by mail or complete the Census using the new online option being offered this year,” Fialho said. “With the U.S. Census Bureau suspending field operations until June 1, we are optimistic that Pleasanton will reach or exceed the (2010) Census responses this year.”
Livermore is also optimistic, with all tracts reporting above 58% and ranking 39th in the state. City Manager Marc Roberts said his town’s response rates look good, despite the fact that not all residents have responded yet. He encouraged people to call the Census hotline if they need assistance.
“Residents can respond online or by phone while sheltering in place,” Robert said. “Census 2020 response rates will determine the federal funding Livermore will receive for the next 10 years to help provide community services, so it’s important for Livermore residents to be counted.”