Census 2020

From the point of view of the 2020 census, late summer is now early spring.

“We’re going to kind of recreate what we should have had the week of April 1,” said Jeff Behler, Northeast regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau. “This was never in the plan.”

This weekend marks the start of a series of events around New Hampshire by census workers to remind people to fill out the every-10-years form that is used for such vital things as deciding on congressional representation and distribution of government funding. The census is so important that the Founding Fathers included it in the Constitution.

On Monday, Aug. 3, up to 1,600 workers will begin going to houses in New Hampshire that have not yet complied. Training has begun for this door-to-door work, which will be done via specialized smartphones and pays $20 an hour with flexible schedules.

For many decades April 1 has been the day when door-to-door work begins, but COVID-19 put everything on hold, forcing the bureau to develop new systems for training and data collection.

Despite the delay, Behler said, response rates for filling out the census form online are pretty good, which may be a reflection of stay-at-home orders that have left people with time to do chores.

“Overall, before we knew anything about COVID, we estimated where we thought we’d be at before knocking on doors, so we could figure out how many people we need to hire. We believed we’d be at 60.5 percent national response,” said Behler. The current national response rate is 62.3 percent.

New Hampshire’s rate of 62.7 percent is right at the national average but slightly behind Massachusetts and well ahead of Vermont and Maine.

Cheshire County is at 62.4 percent. Merrimack County is at a 67.2 percent response rate, while the most populous and wealthy counties of Hillsborough and Rockingham lead the way in New Hampshire with rates of 70.2 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively.

At the other end of the response spectrum is Carroll County, between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains, at just 35 percent. Behler said that reflects the county’s very rural nature, in that 55 percent of the households use a P.O. box for mail rather than a street address.

The Census Bureau does not mail what it calls “invitation packages” to P.O. boxes because it wants to know how many people are living in specific addresses and such boxes may not be linked to an address. The packages told people about the census and gave instructions for filling it out online.

As a result, Behler said, many people in Carroll County may not even realize the census is going on unless somebody knocks on their door and tells them.

The Census Bureau has instituted a contest between counties called Push Week to see which county can have the largest percentage-point increase in self-responses before workers head out in the field.

Workers are scheduled to be at dozens of public sites in the coming week to inform and help people with the online form. It starts with assistance at Warner Town Hall from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday and includes assistance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Franklin Public Library on Monday and a presence at the Davisville Flea Market and Barn Sale in Warner on Sunday, Aug. 2.

This year’s census form is much smaller than in past years because information sought in some past censuses, such as type of housing, income and employment, is now gathered continuously as part of the American Community Survey. The questionnaire asks only basic information about who was living in the home on April 1.

For more information or to fill out the census, go to 2020census.gov.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.