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With hundreds hired, census workers knocking on doors in New London County

While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the start date of enumerators knocking on the doors of people in southeastern Connecticut who haven't responded to the 2020 Census, New York Regional Director Jeff Behler said census workers are "going to continue in full-force" with door-knocking.

They'll just be wearing masks and backing up 6 feet from the door. Another difference, Behler said, is that the U.S. Census Bureau is going to try to stay at peak staff for the next two months, whereas in the past it would have let turnover happen and numbers decline.

As of Monday morning, the bureau had hired 335 paid temporary workers in New London County, and Behler said the bureau is continuing to hire and train people "until we get every device we have in the hands of someone who wants to work." People can apply at 2020census.gov/jobs.

The people knocking on doors in your neighborhood are your neighbors. Perhaps they're what Behler calls the "census groupies," people working their fourth, fifth or sixth decennial census. Perhaps they're people who have lost their job and are looking for a short-term opportunity to pay bills. Perhaps they're teachers or bus drivers or college students looking for summer work, he said, or recently retired folks who are "not ready to hang it up yet."

Citing privacy protections under Title 13 – Census of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't allow enumerators to give interviews. But The Day interviewed Behler over the phone Monday for an update on census efforts in Connecticut.

Behler is the director of the regional office that includes Connecticut, as well as Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"Connecticut is doing fantastic," Behler said. The latest response rate for the state is 66.8% of households, compared to a national response rate of 63%. There are 12 states with higher response rates so far.

Connecticut's final response rate in 2010 was 69.5%, and that was after door-knocking. Behler noted that if nobody answers, the enumerator will leave a notice saying they'll be back in a few days if they don't hear from the resident, which typically gets people to self-respond. People can respond online, over the phone or via email.

For the first time, the Census Bureau also is sending out emails reminding people to respond to the census, a decision made because of the pandemic. Some emails may go to households that already have filled out the census. Behler said the bureau has the email addresses from data collection activities it does for various surveys.

The Census Bureau held a Push Week Challenge from July 27 to Aug. 2 to see who could push a greater self-response rate. The results were released Tuesday and showed that New London County saw an increase in the response rate of 0.9 percentage points, ranking it fourth out of the eight counties in Connecticut.

Door-knocking originally was supposed to start May 13, but the official start date got pushed to Aug. 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Behler said the Census Bureau determined that if an area was operationally ready and it was safe to do so, door-knockers could start earlier, hence why household visits already started in New London County and other parts of the Northeast.

Behler stressed that the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or any law enforcement agency can't access data on an individual or a household level for any reason. Census takers don't ask for citizenship status or bank account information.

e.moser@theday.com

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