After years of working to gather community support for the Census, the Coronavirus Pandemic threatens to upend the 2020 Census Count.   

Even though they’ve heard the messages about how important completing the census is to the future of their community, it’s hard to worry about saving the community when your personal world is falling apart.

It’s a challenge of that magnitude that U.S. Census organizers are confronting.  With so many issues to handle – COVID-19, unemployment, limited financial resources and educating at home children — it’s difficult to make completing the Census at the top of most American’s to-do list.   

Government leaders, national and local community and civil rights organizations, along with churches and their denominations had worked for years, disseminating information and building coalitions designed to drive census participation.

However, it’s easy to see how the leaders of these groups have become distracted.  Many of them are focused on saving their own organizations, families, lives, and careers as well as addressing the lives and wellbeing of their members. 

Last weekend, March 27-29, was supposed to be Faith Communities Census Weekend of Action.  From messages in the church bulletin to impassioned pleas from the pastor, churches across the country had planned a number of activities to encourage their members to respond to the census.   COVID-19 put an end to many of those plans with most churches shuttered and church leaders struggling to find ways to connect with their members. 

Taking it Online

Just like many churches, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s Unity Diaspora Coalition, the National Urban League’s Black Census Roundtable, and more than 40 national and state-based partner organizations held Black Census Week. Late last month, these sponsored a weeklong social media initiative focused on promoting and encouraging the Black population (native and foreign-born) to participate in the 2020 Census.

The initiative, “Count Me Black,” utilized a variety of social media platforms to encourage members of the Black community to complete the census. The initiative originally included door-knocking and getting in front of people but turned to social media in response to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

“This pandemic is as bad as we feared it would be, but we must move forward. We must encourage our people to fill out the forms online. The census is power and we must be counted,” stressed Marc Morial, National Urban League president and CEO. 

Black Response Low at This Point  

Unfortunately, certain population groups at a higher risk of not being fully counted in the census appear not to be responding again this year. So far, census tracts with a high percentage of Black households in both Kansas and the Kansas City Metro area are among the areas with the lowest Census completion rate.

As of March 31, one day before the April 1 official Census Count Day, 36.2% of households nationally had responded to the census.  In Kansas, 40.8% of households and in Missouri, 38% of households had responded.  However, largely Black census tracts in Wichita and Kansas City, Ks had response rates of between 16 -30%.  Kansas City, MO’s heavily Black census tracts were doing better, with a 31 – 40% household response rate.

Coronavirus Adjustments

Although Census Day was April 1, households that haven’t responded are still encouraged to.  To encourage participation, in April, two more reminder notices will be mailed to households that haven’t responded.   In May, depending on the status of the coronavirus pandemic, census workers may, or may not, begin door-to-door visits.

According to the Census Bureau’s operational plan, if the pandemic continues, census workers may resort to just dropping off the questionnaires at homes, with the hope that people will respond on their own. 

“Public health and safety are absolutely critical at this moment of uncertainty,” said Wendi Stark, Census Outreach Manager for the League of Kansas Municipalities.  “That is the case for the public as well as Census Counts organizations, staff, and volunteers.”

For now, Stark says, the emphasis will be on encouraging individuals to take advantage of the many ways available to complete the census.

“Fortunately, it has never been easier and more accessible to respond to the census on your own — online, over the phone, or by mail–all without having to meet someone in person,” said Stark.

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