A census taker knocks on the door of a residence. (U.S. Census Bureau)

If you haven’t yet filled out the U.S. census, you might be getting a visit from a census taker soon. This week, the U.S. Census Bureau began following up with households nationwide that have not yet responded to the 2020 census. They have been sending out some 500,000 census takers to about 56 million households across the country to help residents fill out the census questionnaire.

While most households have already filled out the questionnaire—63.3 percent—Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham says, “To ensure a complete and accurate count, we must now go door to door to count all of the households we have not heard back from. During this phase, you can still self-respond online (at 2020census.gov), by phone (at 844-330-2020), or by mailing your completed questionnaire.”

But Miramar Commissioner Yvette Colbourne is concerned that the Census Bureau is ending this phase—the Non-Response Follow-Up and online responses—on September 30, which is a month earlier than previously stipulated.

“This will rush the enumeration process, result in inadequate follow-up, and undercount immigrant communities and communities of color who are historically undercounted,” Commissioner Colbourne says. “Counting all our residents, especially the elderly, immigrants, and our youth living in the historic portion of our city, will take more time. The city currently has a response rate of 67.7 percent, so we still have over 30 percent uncounted.”

A lot to lose

The consequences of undercounting can be dire, especially for communities that are most in need of the very services the census data impacts. The census helps determine congressional redistricting for political representation, as well as inform decisions about funding for services and infrastructure such as health care, senior centers, jobs, roads, schools, and businesses. 

If residents are not counted in the census, communities will miss out on its share of the more than $675 billion in federal funding that flows back to states and local communities each year based on census data. Colbourne understands this. “We need to ensure an accurate count so that Miramar can receive its fair share of federal funds for the programs and services that members of our community rightfully deserve,” she says.

So why are some people avoiding the census?

Besides prioritizing the current pandemic and its dire repercussions over the census, some residents may simply not trust that their information will be kept confidential and believe it could be used for other purposes. According to a Census Bureau survey conducted in 2018, over a third of Asians and Black Americans said they were “extremely” or “very” concerned that their answers on the 2020 census would be used against them.

However, the Census Bureau is going to great lengths to allay their fears, including releasing a 2020 Census confidentiality factsheet, which declares that “The law is clear—no personal information can be shared.” It cites Title 13 of the U.S. Code, which stipulates that the Census Bureau “cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies.” It adds that responses to the 2020 census are “safe, secure and protected by federal law” and “can only be used to produce statistics—they cannot be used against you in any way.” 

What to expect from a census taker

Census takers, who are usually from the communities they serve, willmake up to six attempts at each housing unit address to count residents; leave a notification, and may try to reach residents by phone to conduct the interview. If all that fails, they will try to get basic information from other sources, such as neighbors, rental agents, or people familiar with the household. They will also wear a government photo ID and practice social distancing and other pandemic protocols.

For more information, visit 2020census.gov.