The data collection period for the 2020 national census – which was originally lengthened due to the COVID-19 pandemic – has been cut by 31 days, and U.S. Census Bureau officials and a statewide committee are urging people to self-respond as soon as possible.
On Aug. 3, bureau officials announced that the census deadline had been moved from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, a 38 percent decrease in the number of days allotted to the count. The bureau said the decision was made in order to “expedite the process of data collection to meet an end-of-year deadline,” but the move – which was ordered by the Trump administration – has drawn criticism from some corners.
Sarah Brannon, managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said the decision is a political one.
“I think this decision is consistent with the behavior all along in politicizing the census and marginalizing the importance of the census,” she said.
Dr. John Green, vice chair of the Mississippi Complete Count Committee, said the cut in days will affect Mississippi in particular.
“This is a decision that hurts states like Mississippi more than others,” said Green. “We feel this action needs to be reconsidered. It will only lead to a grossly miscalculated undercount for our state’s population, leading to long-term problems over the next 10 years, such as underfunding, how many representatives our state will receive for Congress and more.”
Green added that Mississippi has a higher percentage of “hard-to-count areas and populations, both of which benefit from in-person follow-up.”
According to information provided by the bureau, census officials planned to begin knocking on doors to follow up with people who have not self-responded beginning Aug. 11 and continuing through Oct. 31.
“While the 2020 census marked the first time a questionnaire could be completed online, our low level of broadband internet subscriptions has negatively impacted us, with the 2018 five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey revealing that Mississippi had the lowest internet rates in the country,” said Green. “Even though major efforts have been made recently to improve our internet infrastructure, an undercount in the decennial census will put us at a relative disadvantage for years to come, setting us even further behind.”
Green and others – including former state Sen. Giles Ward, who chairs the Complete Count Committee – are urging people to write their representatives in Congress to urge the restoration of the 31 days. They are also urging people to reach out to their neighbors to ensure they have self-responded to the census.
“Regardless of what happens with the deadline, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow Mississippians to encourage anyone we know to complete the census online or by phone as soon as possible,” said Ward.
As of Tuesday, response rates are as follows:
• Nationally: 63.4 percent.
• Statewide: 58.0 percent.
• Forrest County: 58.7 percent.
• Lamar County: 61.1 percent.
• Hattiesburg: 53.9 percent.
• Lumberton: 47.5 percent.
• Petal: 68.2 percent.
• Purvis: 50.5 percent.
• Sumrall: 60.3 percent.
Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager for the Atlanta region, which includes Mississippi, said an accurate count is important because census numbers help devise federal funding formulas.
“Resources are allocated based on population statistics gathered from the census,” she said. “Yearly, those numbers help allot $675 billion, or $7 trillion over a decade, and that’s funding for things like Medicaid, schools, social services, highway construction and planning, emergency management and so on. When you look at the census from that standpoint, then it becomes a fuller understanding … and you say, wow, this is really serious. All those things are important.”
Stephens said there is “no excuse” not to complete the census.
“You can do it online in a few minutes, or by phone in a few minutes, or you can use the paper questionnaire that we sent,” she said. “It’s easy, and everyone should be making a list of 10 people to contact … to ask them if they’ve done their census. Once you’ve reached those 10 people, add another 10. It takes maybe six minutes to complete the census … and those six minutes will help us for 10 years.”
To complete the census, visit my2020census.gov or call 844.330.2020.