Census response lags nationwide
METRO — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Multnomah County, especially the tiny city of Maywood Park, is besting the county in its early response rates to the nationwide census.
Because of restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies have had to radically alter their efforts to boost responses, and that is likely having an impact on the count.
But the current pandemic itself illustrates the importance of the census, officials agreed.
"One thing people can do to help our cities in the time of this pandemic is fill out the census forms. That will determine how disaster funds will be allotted to our area in the future," said Cristal Otero, census coordinator for the cities of Fairview and Wood Village.
Despite some numbers showing a lag in responses nationwide, Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who is heading up the county's effort, said in a statement: "We are pleased with the response, so far, but encourage people to keep at it and make sure they complete their census form."
Nationally, as of April 8, not quite half, 46.7%, of households have completed their census forms, which is down about 14% from the response rate at April 1 a decade earlier, according to statistics provided by the census coordinator of Fariview and Wood Village.
But in Multnomah County's Maywood Park, a solid 68.3% of households have responded thus far, according to U.S. Census numbers.
So far, Oregon has a response rate of 48.9% and Multnomah County, 52.3% as of April 8.
In Portland 52.9% of households have responded and in Gresham 47.8%. Fairview 50.2%, Wood Village 48.8% and Troutdale 56.6%.
"The U.S. Census Bureau isn't able to answer definitively (yet) as to whether we're "ahead" of 2010 rates but we can say we're doing really well and 'thank you' to everyone who is doing their part to secure the count for future services," Stegmann said.
"I think it's safe to say, that potentially it (the pandemic) could be affecting response rates, especially in those hard-to-count communities," said Elizabeth Coffey, communications manager for the city of Gresham.
Cities and agencies are urging folks to fill out the form. The census has extended the deadline for responding from the end of July to Aug. 14.
"Ten minutes will make a difference for the next 10 years," Otero said.
But many of the efforts to get folks to respond had to be abandoned because of the restrictions put in place to tamp down the spread of COVID-19.
Multnomah County was set to "wrap" three vans and send them out to promote the census at events and gatherings, but that was scrapped. Likewise, workers were going to fan out to meetings, events and activities all over the county, and those efforts are on hold.
Fairview and Wood Village city halls had census stations set up to help folks fill out the form, but like other city halls, both are now closed.
An April 1 nationwide "camp count" to tally people who are unhoused was scrubbed for the time being.
The census is important to states and local communities. It determines how the approximately $900 billion in federal funds are divvied up. For each person counted, Oregon receives about $3,200 in federal funds each year, Stegmann said.
The every-10-year count dictates how many delegates a state gets in Congress. With Oregon's population growth, it is expected Oregon will get a sixth congressional seat after the tally is in.
Census data also is used to determine representation in the Oregon Legislature. This could produce some big changes in the statehouse as population in Oregon has shifted and grown in some areas in the 10 years since the last census.
At this point, most households have received three census reminders and one paper questionnaire in the mail.
The state's effort, called We Count Oregon, has teams working remotely, attempting to "contact hard-to-count community members via phone and texts," according to one of the agency's recent virtual presentations.
We Count also has boosted social media campaigns to "keep the Census at the forefront of people's to-do list during this time."
Stegmann pointed out that "for thousands of students who just found out school is online for the rest of the year, this is a perfect lesson in civics or social studies. The census takes 10-15 minutes to complete and it's online. So do your part and fill it out while you're staying home and saving lives."
Tod and Tika win!
Two photos of dogs and one of a cat are the winners of the Multnomah County Census Pet Photo Contest.
Suzie Kassouf's portrait of her dog, Tod, filling out the family's census form was a winner.
Judith Ferdig's shot of her glossy cat, Tika, with a census envelope was also picked.
And, Ronnie Meyers' image of an unnamed pup also was selected by the county as a winner in the contest.
In an effort to boost interest in filling out the census form, the county launched the pet photo contest.
Tod and Tika had no comment for this story.
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