Census Scrambles to Boost Count Rates

By: - September 18, 2020 12:00 am

A census enumerator in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of 10 states where less than 90% of homes have been counted in the 2020 census. Cedar Attanasio/The Associated Press

While a court challenge continues over whether the U.S. Census Bureau must stop its count by Sept. 30, the agency is shifting resources to try to boost rates in the states with the fewest responses.  

Ten states still have less than 90% of homes counted. The bureau is moving staff from states with the highest rates to the those with the lowest, said Albert Fontenot, an associate director at the bureau, speaking at the Census Scientific Advisory Committee meeting Thursday.

The states with counts less than 90% as of Sept. 16: Alabama (85.6%), Montana and Louisiana (both 86.9%), Mississippi (87.1%), Georgia (87.4%), South Carolina (87.7%), New Mexico (88.6%), Arizona (88.9%), North Carolina (89.3%) and Florida (89.8%).

“We have 5,000 traveling enumerators, moving from the most successful states to those 10 states that are under 90%, mostly Southeastern states with COVID outbreaks,” Fontenot said.

Among the challenges he cited: Western fires, pandemic-related limits on activity in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico, and heavy rains in Georgia and South Carolina that forced the bureau to look for people in temporary shelters.

“We are facing some major challenges from nature,” Fontenot said.

The states with the highest rates of homes counted, 98% or more, are Idaho (99.7%), West Virginia (99.6%), Hawaii (98.9%), Maine and Washington (both 98%).

A federal judge in California blocked the bureau from preparing to end the count this month, pending a hearing set for Sept. 22. The lawsuit by the National Urban League, asserting the census needs more time to finish after pandemic delays, was joined by the Navajo Nation as well as cities and counties in California, Illinois, Texas and Washington.

“Because the decennial census is at issue here, an inaccurate count would not be remedied for another decade, which would affect the distribution of federal and state funding,” Judge Lucy Koh wrote in an earlier ruling.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.