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It's in everyone's interest to be counted in census

After a more than three-month pandemic-induced delay, census workers are now out in force knocking on doors in an effort to include as many residents as possible in the official census count. Earlier this week, 2020 Census New York Regional Director Jeff Behler said 335 temporary workers are fanning out across New London County, knocking on doors where no one has yet submitted a census questionnaire. The Census is seeking even more temporary workers to head into neighborhoods in an effort to ensure the highest possible response rate for the decennial count.

While the door-knocking delays were unfortunate, if understandable, it’s heartening, given the high stakes of the count, how seriously 2020 Census officials are taking this final push to account for as many residents as possible. Despite the workers’ determination, they face challenges that go well beyond the need to wear masks and stay six feet from residents.

A Pew Research Center survey released late in July found that about 40% of those who have not yet responded to the census said they will be reluctant to answer the door when a census worker knocks. The survey also found those who have not yet reported to the census are disproportionately likely to be from groups that have been undercounted in previous tallies. These groups include ethnic and racial minorities.

Among undocumented immigrants, the reluctance to be counted is far from surprising given President Trump’s continued intimidating rhetoric on the subject. As recently as late July, he issued a memo calling to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the count. Several federal lawsuits are challenging these directives, which are clearly unconstitutional given the Constitution's directive for "counting the whole number of persons in each state."

We find the president’s attempts to exclude this vulnerable population from the census count contemptible. We urge leaders in minority and immigrant communities to help quell fears and encourage census participation.

There are huge stakes in the numbers tallied each decade in the constitutionally mandated count. Census data most fundamentally determines the number of represetatives each state sends to the House of Representatives. But it also helps determine how $800 billion in federal resources are allocated. In 2017 alone, Connecticut received $18.7 billion in federal funds.

Locally, census data is used to determine public bus routes, the need for public housing and school funding such as school lunch and breakfast allocations, and funding for new school construction and renovations. It is used to distribute billions of dollars in nutrition programs to women, infants and children, early childhood education such as Head Start, temporary aid to needy families and mother and child health services block grants.

In addition, data is used in determining where healthcare facilities are built and road improvements made. According to the Census Counts campaign, in 2017 nearly $300 billion of public funds were spent on transportation infrastructure. This includes grants for public transit and for highway planning and construction.

Connecticut’s census response rate stands at 66.8%, Behler told The Day this week. That ranks the state behind 12 other states and above the national response rate of 63%. New London County currently ranks fourth out the state’s eight counties in terms of response rates.

While the overall response rate is not far below Connecticut’s final tally of 69.5% in 2010, response rates are lagging further behind in urban areas. In late June, census officials reported New London’s response rate at 54.9% and Norwich’s at 59.6%.

As the final push to count everyone continues, we urge all residents who have not yet been counted to step forward. Don't be intimidated into not being counted. Answer the door when a neighbor working as a temporary census data collector knocks. Follow up online or by phone or email if they knock when no one is home. Being counted takes just a few minutes, but the positive results of having an accurate and complete census last a decade.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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