Everyone counts! U.S. Census count requires creativity during pandemic


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

The state of Iowa is among the top five in the nation for the U.S. Census 2020 response rate with 68 percent. That encourages organizers striving to reach as many people as possible in a campaign hampered by a pandemic.

This graphic is part of the United States Census Bureau’s campaign to make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 census.

In Davenport, local organizers held a news conference on July 13 to provide an update on the creative ways implemented so far to ensure that more households are counted by the Oct. 31 extended deadline.

This once in a decade survey of the U.S. population determines representation in Congress, allocation of funds for new roads, schools and emergency services, social services, housing construction and business decisions.


Census results “have tremendous impact on national and state funding for education, affordable housing, road repair dollars and so many more programs that benefit communities and their residents,” Davenport Alderwoman Marion Meginnis told The Catholic Messenger. She chairs the Davenport Complete Count United States Census 2020 Committee.

This year, households have a variety of methods for completing the Census survey: online, by phone and on paper. In Iowa, to date, 68 percent of households have self-responded; 53 percent of them have used the internet to self-respond, according to the U.S. Census 2020 (census.gov).

Meginnis said COVID-19 and the efforts to keep the community and individuals safe “has required us to rethink our approach to outreach, particularly to our hard-to-reach communities.” While opportunities to reach out to people face to face have been curtailed, the extended deadline provides more time to reach those slower to respond.

The census tract in which she lives, an economically challenged neighborhood in Davenport’s central city, has one of the slower response rates, which breaks her heart. “I have lived in this neighborhood for 23 years. I love my neighborhood. I see the need here.”

She believes some people in urban areas with low self-response rates may be reluctant to complete the Census because of their immigration status. The Census information is confidential and seeks to get a clear picture of who lives in the U.S. and is not in the law enforcement business. People struggling to make ends meet may think that no one cares about them, that their lives don’t count. Everyone counts, she said.

Census takers will begin their door-to-door work the second week in August, contacting people who have not yet responded. Self-reporting online or on the phone will continue through Oct. 31. Meginnis noted that people must respond when the Census takers arrive at their door.

Efforts to get the word out in this time of pandemic have included public service announcements on TV and social media and billboards, for example. Census organizers have also contacted managers of apartment complexes and buildings to distribute informational door hangers with the help of staff already working in the buildings. Direct-mailing efforts were undertaken in the three lowest-performing census tracts in Davenport.

Students participating in the COVID and summer lunch programs receive Census materials and trinkets, such as post-it-notes, children’s activity books and chip clips to bring home. Food pantries also help with distribution of items, she said.

“Some of our efforts toward hard-to-reach residents through the religious community were challenged when COVID closed places of worship,” Meginnis said. “We hope as churches return to a more normal worship schedule, there will be time to close that gap. Right now, we are working on a special initiative through LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). LULAC’s mission is to “advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.”

Mike Reyes, council administrator for LULAC Council 10, Davenport, said Spanish-speaking Catholics have been working in the area of the former St. Mary Parish in Davenport to get the word out through telephone calls, Spanish language flyers, yard signs and other materials.

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