Though the U.S. Census Bureau has postponed its fieldwork operations and extended the deadlines for the 2020 census, Philadelphia Regional Census Bureau Director Fernando Armstrong told The Times-Gazette that he feels comfortable and confident that the 248 census offices across the country can produce thorough and accurate census data.
Armstrong, who has worked on five censuses, said the bureau is required by law to submit census data to the president by Dec. 31, 2020 — and they’re going to do it.
”We feel we can stop now, wait for it to be right to be back in the field, and still meet that deadline and have a good census, an accurate census,” Armstrong said. “During these few weeks, we are reassessing and re-evaluating every one of the operations we still have to do. We are looking for ways we can simplify or reduce contact. When it’s safe for us to resume our fieldwork, we will take advantage of all these tools, so we can stay on schedule and deliver the results by the end of the year.”
Armstrong said the Census Bureau will begin mailing out paper census forms on Wednesday, April 8. However, those whose mail goes to a P.O. box will not receive a paper form in the mail.
According to a March 28 press release from the U.S. Census Bureau, field operations have been postponed until April 15, though Armstrong told The Times-Gazette that census workers will only be permitted to work in the field after it’s safe across the nation for social contact.
“We stopped our field operations because we feel very, very strongly that the safety of our employees and the safety of the American public is, by far, our number one priority,” Armstrong said. “When the decision was made following the directives from the president and the CDC and governors that everyone had to observe social distancing, we stopped that operation. We will resume once leadership and CDC tell us that it’s safe to resume going door-to-door.”
The Census Bureau plans to limit contact between census workers and household residents even after fieldwork resumes, but Armstrong encouraged those who haven’t received their forms yet to respond to the census online or by phone.
“People don’t need to wait for us to restart — they can do it today,” Armstrong said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Census Self-Response Map, as of Wednesday, 38.4 percent of households across the U.S. have already responded to the census. Meanwhile, 41.7 percent of Ohio households have responded. In Highland County, 38.5 percent have responded, a majority of which completed the census questionnaire online.
Those who haven’t received unique codes can provide their addresses in order to begin the questionnaire.
Though Armstrong indicated he feels confident the Census Bureau will have the data to present on the legally appointed day, researchers at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank specializing in economic and social policy research, aren’t so sure.
These researchers recommend postponing the Dec. 31 deadline in order to thoroughly process responses, something which would take an act of Congress. They also say the current pandemic may cause significant changes in living arrangements across the country, including college students who may no longer be living at school after their schools closed.
According to the Census Bureau, however, college students should be counted as though they were still living where they would be for school.
“There’s no way reliable counts are going to be generated by the end of December,” said Robert Santos, vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute. “It’s implausible.”
Personal data submitted during the census is broken down into statistics that cannot be used to identify or find a specific individual, Armstrong said. The faceless data is then used by private and public entities to research and prepare for major decisions, such as where to build a school or where to invest, as well as smaller decisions, such as what products are sold in grocery store chains.
But census data affect more than that, according to Philadelphia Regional Census Center Partnership Specialist Samuel Knight, who has been working with Highland County committees to inform the community about the census.
“Some people might think to themselves, ‘How does this have to do with me?’ or ‘What is my stake in this?’” Knight said. “Everything we do at some point in the day traces back to having good data and statistics to be able to make decisions about where money is spent and representation is allotted.”
Data gathered during the 2020 census, Knight said, will affect how the government decides to allocate more than $675 billion in federal funds each year for the next decade. According to Knight, if any community members are missed during the census count, the data won’t accurately represent the area, which could cause Ohio and Highland County governments and organizations to be denied funding.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.