4 Cost-Effective Ways Planners Can Boost Census Response

NOTE: Since the original publication of this blog, a U.S. Supreme Court decision allows the Census Bureau to end the Census self-response deadline before the end of this month. The new deadline is October 15, 2020.

The countdown to September 30 — the last day when people in the United States can complete the 2020 Census — is on.

With less than a month before the critical data collection phase ends, planners working in every corner of the country are making final efforts to leverage their unique expertise, networks, and resources to increase self-response rates in the hardest-to-count neighborhoods.

At risk is the accuracy of data that planners rely on to help leaders make well-informed decisions. Also at risk is the allocation of billions of dollars in annual and emergency federal and state funding that supports the implementation of community-backed plans and essential services, and appropriate political representation for all groups.

Planners must embrace their roles as facilitators of effective outreach to ensure that an undercount of the nation's younger, lower-income, and black and brown residents is avoided in the 2020 Census. Planners must use these last moments to be creative and resourceful. The futures of our communities depend on it.

Planners Ensure Accurate Census Data

Here are four cost-effective ways that planners can help boost response rates:

1. Work with the municipality to help Census takers gain access to apartment and condominium buildings.

According to the Census Bureau, one of its biggest challenges in the nonresponse follow-up phase is reaching people who live in large apartment or condo complexes. Encouraging municipal leaders to reach out to property managers to coordinate a time for local Census workers to approach residents is one of the most effective tactics to take at this late stage.

2. Help your Complete Count Committee identify places frequented by residents without homes.

Help the community's Complete Count Committee, a group charged with developing and implementing a 2020 Census campaign that is tailored to and reflective of local needs. One approach is to try to identify residences like emergency and traditional shelters, food distribution centers, or outdoor spaces where residents without homes or conventional housing reside. The Census Bureau relies on local information from community stakeholders — like planners — to fill data gaps and provide critical updates.

3. Tap trusted community influencers to talk Census.

With distrust of government at an all-time high, selecting the right messengers to encourage Census participation is critical. A reassuring message from a trusted leader who shares the values and can relate to the experiences of a community can go a long way to ensure that everyone is counted. Faith leaders, school principals, and even local celebrities can help to make an effective case for being counted.

4. Meet people where they are.

Families are staying closer to home as the pandemic stretches on, emphasizing the importance of centering the people planners most need to engage in their outreach. In Boise, planners helped local Census workers place 325 signs in both Spanish and English in yards in the lowest-responding Census tract areas. They also targeted their physically distanced in-person events to markets, churches, bus stations, and shopping centers in the neighborhoods where Boise's historically undercounted populations reside.

Top image: A yard sign sponsored by the 2020 Census, the City of Columbus, Ohio, and the University District encouraging census responses. Wikimedia Commons photo.

About the Author
Emily Pasi is APA's public affairs manager.

September 9, 2020

By Emily Pasi