With the 2020 census around the corner, Clatsop County is ramping up outreach efforts to ensure everyone gets counted.
The county is forming a Complete Count Committee to help reach what the U.S. Census Bureau calls the “hard-to-count populations.”
The census bureau has identified racial and ethnic minorities, people experiencing homelessness, non-English speakers, seniors, highly mobile people and children under 5 as often difficult to count.
The goal of the committee is to increase outreach and education about the importance of the once-a-decade count through local public and private entities that are already in contact with these populations. The outreach and education efforts will ramp up in January.
“We’re just trying to figure out who works with some of theses populations that would be able to help us educate these populations on why it’s important for them to participate,” said Monica Steele, the assistant county manager and budget director.
“And then also when the census counters start going out, trying to educate some of these people so that when they do come knock on their door they’re not afraid of them,” she said.
Census trackers will visit homes when questions are left blank, so the census bureau encourages people to fill out the forms completely. The responses can only be used to produce statistics. It is prohibited to release census or survey information that identifies anyone.
“It’s important that this kind of messaging comes from trusted community voices and leaders in Clatsop, and this committee will allow this to happen more effectively and efficiently,” Marc Czornij, a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said in an email.
The census is required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years. The population count is used to draw seats in Congress and influences how federal money is distributed for a range of social service programs.
The census statistics will determine how more than $13 billion in federal resources through 55 different programs in Oregon is allocated to Clatsop County each year.
The data will also help Clatsop County determine whether there needs to be modifications in the Board of Commissioners’ district boundaries, since the county charter requires the total population to be “allocated nearly equally” between the five districts.
“It’s so key and crucial and not just for our counties, but for nonprofits and funding ... to really know who is in the community,” said Jenny Pool Radway, the executive director at the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. “It’s a way for us to demonstrate that there is a need and that there is not enough of that service or there’s an underrepresentation of that market or what have you.”
For example, children under 5 are hard to count, but if there is an accurate count, then a case can be made for more child care for younger children, Pool Radway said.
Two Lower Columbia Hispanic Council staffers went to a census conference last month to prepare for local outreach. Pool Radway also brings experience, having worked as a partnership specialist for the census bureau.
“Completing the census is a way to be civically engaged,” Pool Radway said. “And I would love for people to say, ‘Hey, do you want me to help you complete the census’ to someone who doesn’t speak English or someone who is afraid, and really encourage them and explain why it affects everyone, why it’s key and it’s OK and safe to do.”