As the United States prepares to launch a once-a-decade population count next year, one focus is finding people who are traditionally difficult to locate.
Seniors, younger children, renters, the homeless, immigrants and migrant workers are in what the U.S. Census Bureau calls the “hard-to-count community.”
The census, required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years, is used to draw seats in Congress and influences how federal money is distributed for a range of social service programs.
“We only have one opportunity to get this right,” said Sarah Bushore, a partnership specialist in Oregon for the Census Bureau. “Right now we are living off 2010 data.
“When 2020 happens, if we cut ourselves short and we don’t get a complete and accurate count, we are going to have to live with those results for the next 10 years. So we really need to make sure we get a complete and accurate count.”
The government is raising awareness about why self-reporting is important and reminding people the information they share will remain confidential, Bushore said.
“This is a really big issue, particularly for people who are not U.S. citizens and other minorities who may be concerned about what we do with that information,” Bushore told Clatsop County commissioners during a presentation in June. “It is very important that we make sure everyone understands that what we do is private and confidential.”
Census questions include a person’s name, address, birthdate, race and gender.
The Trump administration sought to add a citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950, but dropped the effort after legal challenges. President Donald Trump has instead directed federal agencies to compile citizenship information from existing databases.
Opponents of the citizenship question argued that it would lead to an undercount, particularly in the Latino community, where undocumented immigrants have been the targets of federal immigration enforcement sweeps.
The Lower Columbia Hispanic Council is stressing the importance of self-reporting to the Latino community in Clatsop County.
Andrea Gonzalez, a program, services and events coordinator for the council, said many undocumented people do not self-report for fear they will be reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“As far as the citizenship question not being on there, I think that helps tremendously,” she said. “Because it is not on there, that kind of does help us hopefully try to convince people to understand how important it is to do the census.”
The Census Bureau is prohibited from releasing any census or survey information that identifies an individual or business. This includes information about citizenship status.
The issue of potential disclosure is sensitive because the Census Bureau, after years of denials, acknowledged that it released information about Japanese Americans during World War II that led to internment.
“When I visited with Monmouth and the city of Independence, they lost over $50,000 because people would not sign up for the program,” Bushore told county commissioners. “They were afraid that information would be turned over to law enforcement. It’s something we all have to work on together. This is not an easy solution where we just visit one time. We need to talk more often about what we need to do.”
The Census Bureau is also reaching out to social service organizations for assistance in counting seniors, who make up an estimated 25% of Clatsop County’s population.
According to the bureau, among the reasons seniors are hard to count is because some are physically isolated, feeling they don’t matter, or don’t have access or ability to use the internet.
Children under 5 years old are difficult to count because in some cases they are raised by their grandparents, who may live in housing that does not allow children. They fear that information will be turned over to their landlord.
Renters tend not to report because they frequently move.
Clatsop County has among the highest estimated homeless populations in the state, but the exact number has been hard to pinpoint.
“Some of the money that we get to provide public health services and mental health services is federal money and if the homeless population and transient population aren’t being counted accurately or if we have some minority populations that aren’t accurately being counted as being residents here then we’re serving them, but were not receiving all of the money to be able to provide better services,” said Monica Steele, the interim county manager.