Anandavalli Menon is a good citizen. The 56 year old Indian-American engineer lives in a rural suburb outside Detroit, and by all accounts is a public spirited resident who believes in civic engagement for the common good. She is a church organizer for her community, volunteers at her local soup kitchen on weekends, and delivers dinners to senior citizens now homebound by the coronavirus outbreak. And yet, even a month after it was delivered, Anandavalli has not responded to her 2020 census invitation.
Though Michigan is among the midwestern states leading the count with over 50% in self-response rates, Anandavalli’s home is one of 64 million households across the nation that likely will receive paper questionnaires. Starting April 8th, the US Census Bureau will try to round up slackers and count everyone by geographic location, for the 2020 Census.
As a strong influencer in her community, Anandvalli would not quite qualify as a laggard. In our conversation she maintains that she has every intention of completing the census, but reluctantly admits to forgetting about responding to the invitation that came in early March.
The first census invitations began to arrive at the nation’s estimated 140 million households between March 12-20. Odds are, that many householders like Anandavalli will have “….stashed it safely away under the mountain of bills on my desk.”
The Census Bureau beefed up its efforts to increase awareness and participation in the 2020 Census by investing close to $500 million in a robust communications campaign. This multi-lingual initiative began late December 2019 and still continues across the nation’s airwaves and public spaces. It’s had the desired impact on almost 46.2% of all households who’ve already responded online.
But are slackers paying attention to this multi-million dollar crusade?
Census ads pop up everywhere – on television, radio, billboards, and transit stations to the Internet and social media including. Facebook. Twitter and Instagram.
So, how well does a good citizen like Anandavalli Menon understand this critical public initiative? Does she get that it will determine how billions of federal dollars are spent on community infrastructure in her home state? Does she realize it impacts what representation she could have in Congress? Does she know that Michigan, like 10 other states, is slated to lose seats when congressional districts are redrawn in December 2020?
Anandavalli was rueful about her ignorance; even so, her answers were surprising.
How often is the census conducted? “…every four or five years?”
It happens every ten years.
What’s the census for? “…other than to count demographics, I’m not sure.”
The census counts everyone in the United States to determine how federal funds will be distributed to states and local communities every year for vital public services and infrastructure, including health clinics, schools, roads and emergency services.
How will you respond to the census? “By mail. You can respond online? Gosh, I had no idea! ”, and, after a quick online check, “I think I need a 12-digit code. Where’s that?”
You can respond to the census by mail, by phone or online in English plus 12 non-English languages. Your unique Census ID can be found on the letter or questionnaire you receive from the Census Bureau. And you must complete the census in one sitting.
A Pew Research study confirms that most adults like Anandavalli know about the census and say its very important to the country, but are hazy on key details. Though 78% of the people surveyed intended to fill out and submit a census form, only about one-in-five knew they had an online answering option. Many still believe they will be asked about their citizenship or religion. And, Census Bureau research suggests that people who say they intend to participate in the census do not necessarily follow through.
But the census bureau is ready for procrastinators like Anandavalli Menon. Last week it mailed out paper questionnaires as a reminder.
“If you’re among the nearly half of all the nation’s households that have responded already, thank you!” said Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham. “Once you have responded, please encourage your family, friends and loved ones to complete the census too.”
If Anandavalli Menon still does not respond, will a census taker come knocking at her door?
From May and July, the Census Bureau had intended to send out census takers to follow up with non-responsive households. But the coronavirus has stymied efforts to conduct a safe count of the population.
For now, the near-total lockdown of millions of households for the foreseeable future, has put the brakes on any such face-to-face communication efforts as the Census Bureau adapts to the coronavirus outbreak. Some areas where census takers were originally going to hand-deliver forms in person will now receive a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau reminding them to participate.
Census procrastinators need to take action.
The bottom line is – responding now will minimize the need for the Census Bureau to send deputies out into communities to follow up.
Counting yourself into this snapshot of the nation without putting human census takers at risk, should be a compelling enough reason to respond to the census, when compared to putting off a civic obligation that you just may have forgotten about.
For more information on how to safely respond to the 2020 CENSUS, click here.
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.