The importance of being counted

County gears up for 2020 Census after 31% failed to respond in 2010

DeAnn Zebelean of the U.S. Census Bureau updates the Grand County Council on the upcoming count at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Nearly three out of ten Grand County residents did not respond to the 2010 U.S. Census, 31% to be exact, a dismal figure local officials want to improve upon this year.

Participating in the decennial U.S. Census is, much like serving on a jury, a civic duty. It’s also a way for every human living in Grand County to contribute $1,870 every year of the next decade to county coffers – that’s $18,700 per person.

So said DeAnn Zebelean, a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau’s regional office in Dallas. She discussed the importance of conducting a complete census count this spring and summer. Residents can self-respond online starting March 12. Those who decline to participate can expect a number of mailed reminders before someone shows up to their place of residence in person.

Zebelean said one of the more challenging demographics to accurately count in 2010 was children younger than 5, a group she said was under-counted by 5 percent due in large part to more than one family living in a residence. There was anxiety they would be evicted if their landlord discovered more people were living in the home than the lease permitted.

Their fears were unwarranted, as it is unlawful to disseminate any information obtained in the census, including citizenship status, for more than seven decades. She said census workers would never ask for anyone’s social security number, and responses can only be used to produce statistics, she said.

The first time 2020 Census information can be released to the public is 2092, when the National Archives and Records Administration will do so in order to support historical research.

Zebelean did not proffer a guess as to why 31% of residents didn’t participate in 2010, but she said the clear challenge in 2020 will be to count the so-called “working homeless,” those people who by choice or necessity live out of their vehicles or campers when they come to Moab to work the busy tourism seasons.

She hopes more than 90% of residents participate.

Help wanted

It’s going to take boots on the ground to reach that figure, and temporary census jobs are still available. Zebelean said 74 locals have applied and 113 are needed. The average worker earns $16 an hour and will work 20 hours a week for eight weeks. Those interested can apply online at www.2020census.gov/jobs, or call 855-562-2020.

Why it’s important to respond

Census numbers determine the number of representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives. The more people, the more representatives a state has. State redistricting also is based on census numbers.

About $675 billion in federal grants are doled out to states, counties and communities based on census data, money that goes to schools, hospitals, roads and other public works projects.

How to respond

Filling out the census form – which the Bureau refers to as an invitation – in 2020 can be done online for the first time. Responses can also be done by mail and even by phone.

According to Zebelean, 95% of households will receive a census form in the mail if they get home delivery. A census taker will drop off forms for people who use a post office box.

Less than 1% of households will be counted in person by a census taker instead of self-responding, primarily in “very remote” areas, such as parts of northern Maine, remote Alaska and certain American Indian areas.

The plan is to stagger the mailings so the website doesn’t get overwhelmed, she said.

What to expect

On or between March 12-20, people will receive an “invitation to respond online.” A reminder letter will be sent out the next week and if it is ignored a reminder postcard will be mailed the week after that.

Yet another reminder letter – this one accompanied by a paper questionnaire – will be mailed out before a final reminder postcard is sent out at the end of April. After that, someone will show up in person to the individual’s residence.

According to Zebelean’s presentation, “It doesn’t matter which initial invitation you get or how you get it, we will follow up in person with all households that don’t respond.”