An Interview with Catherine Strode
Conducting a complete enumeration of the residents of the country is one of the few functions of the government written in the Constitution. The first Census, conducted in 1790 under Thomas Jefferson, has evolved over the centuries from door to door inquiries to nationwide mailings.
In March of 2020 however, the Census in Denver is going ‘high- tech’. This new process poses challenges for Denver’s Census staff who is dedicated to making sure everyone is counted. They say this development, along with Trump administration polices, will lower Denver’s Census response rate.
How will Denver’s 2020 Census be implemented?
Every housing unit address in Denver will receive a letter encouraging residents to go online and fill out the Census. The Census can be completed in ways other than online but that is the way people in Denver will be encouraged to respond. You will be provided with a code to do that. If you lose the code, you can still go online and type in your address and complete the Census. You also will be given the option to call a toll free phone number to complete the Census. In addition to English, you can answer the Census in 13 different languages. If you don’t respond to the letter, you’ll get another letter. Then you’ll get a postcard. The fourth time, you’ll receive a letter with a paper questionnaire. If you don’t respond to the paper questionnaire, the Census Bureau will institute a process they call ‘non responsive follow-up’. A Census Bureau worker will come to your door and try to complete the survey with you.
How will the new Census method impact the response?
In 2010, 76 percent of Denver residents completed the Census. We don’t know how many completed it after follow-up non response operations. The Census Bureau is predicting 56 percent of people will complete the questionnaire without intervention in 2020. That’s low. We expect the online aspect to be intimidating to some groups of people. We did an informal survey of older adults in Denver. About 45 percent of them indicated they didn’t feel confident in their ability to complete their Census online. We expect that without interventions being made by the City, the State, the nonprofit community and the Partnership Staff of the Census Bureau, the response will be lower than in 2010.
Which populations are challenging to reach?
The groups we used to call “hard to count.” We’re trying to shift the language to “historically undercounted.” That shifts the burden from it being your fault you weren’t counted, versus, your population has been undercounted. We are most worried about: people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, communities of color, American Indians, Alaskan natives, immigrants and refugees, people with low income, adults 65 years and older, people who don’t have sufficient access or feel uncomfortable using the internet, individuals reentering from incarceration, the homeless, renters, and children under the age of five.
What is the process for providing accommodations for individuals with disabilities with a wide range of needs, including individuals with intellectual disabilities?
For folks with disabilities, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Depending on the living situation of the individual with the disability and the severity, extent or type of the disability, the answer of how they’d answer the Census varies. Individuals living in an assisted living type facility would be counted under the Census Bureau’s “Group Quarters” operation. They would not receive an individual Census form. In this case, no individual action needs to be taken on behalf of the person with a disability. If an individual is living with a family member or other caregiver, we’d expect that care giver to include the individual with disabilities as part of their household. If an individual has a visual disability, the survey can be completed by phone or they can request a form in braille or large print. We don’t have all the answers yet. We are interested in having a conversation with individuals with disabilities, their advocates and their care givers to make sure no one is missed. They can contact us at: www.denvergov.org/Census2020.
Will the Trump administration policies impact response?
Yes. Trying to put a citizenship question on the Census was one action that has negatively impacted the Census. People are not excited about providing any information to the government because of the ICE raids and the rhetoric around immigrants. A second negative action is the Department of Commerce was denied the budget it requested to run the Census. It is running the 2020 Census with the same budget as 2010. This online operation is totally different than the 2010 Census which was all on paper.
What will be done to alleviate concerns on the local level?
Our job is to convince folks they can trust the Census Bureau’s data protection policies. The Census Bureau under Title 13 is not able to share individual level data with anyone else. They can’t share your data with ICE or with the IRS. Every person who works for the Census Bureau takes a lifetime confidentiality oath. The penalty for breaking confidentiality is a $250,000 fine or five years in prison. We are trying to convince people that answering the survey is important for their community. We need to know how many people and how many kids live in a community so Denver Public Schools can plan for how many kindergarteners there are going to be in 2023. Do we need to build another building or another health clinic or have more bus routes or expand a road? All that information is used in aggregate form to make decisions to allocate funding back to communities. If people hear the Census is good from their doctors, their pastor, from trusted voices in the community, that’s the way we will convince them to trust it.
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.