Federal workers and local volunteers are trying to get as many people as possible in New Hampshire to fill out to 2020 U.S. census. Time is running out for the first part of that process, which is focused on getting people to fill out the survey themselves before a census worker shows up at their door in August.
NHPR's Sarah Gibson has been checking in with census workers. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with her about how it's going in the Granite State.
Rick Ganley: Sarah, we know it's important to get an accurate count. This affects, you know, billions of dollars in funding for the state. There have been challenges this year. How's it going here?
Sarah Gibson: So the self-response rate, which is basically how many people are filling out the survey online or sending it in via mail, is on par with the national average. It's almost 63 percent nationally as well as in New Hampshire. And some areas are doing better than that. So Hillsborough and Rockingham counties this week were clocking in at about 70 percent self-response rate, which is pretty good given the fact that the pandemic curtailed so much of the typical in-person census outreach that we usually see. But there are some problem areas. Belknap County and the North Country are way lower. For instance, Carroll County has about half the response rate as Hillsborough.
Rick Ganley: Well, what are the challenges in those spots?
Sarah Gibson: So I called up one of the state's senior census coordinators, Nicole McKenzie, and she said one of the reasons the self-response rate is so low in some of the rural recreational areas is because of the seasonal population. Here's what she said.
Nicole McKenzie: They have a second home. They say, well, I already responded to the census in Massachusetts, or Connecticut or wherever they live normally. They don't often know that they need to respond for their second home. And so we provide information on how they do that. And if no one lives at that second home most of the time, they would still need to do the census. They would just indicate that zero people live there.
Sarah Gibson: So they're doing additional outreach in grocery stores, at farmer's markets and through social media to really let people know they should still fill out the census even if they are in their second home in New Hampshire.
Rick Ganley: Sarah, I know there's a lot of concern about undocumented people and immigrants not trusting the census. You know, has that been the case here in New Hampshire?
Sarah Gibson: Well, it seems to have been based on my conversations as well as the self-response rate. So some of the state's most diverse census tracts, which are essentially small neighborhoods in Manchester and Nashua, do have a lower self-response rate than their county as a whole. We also saw this in 2010. There are a number of reasons for it. But one of them certainly is a mistrust of government and concern that that information will be shared.
There were lots of plans to do outreach, you know, in the language of that neighborhood. But the pandemic forced people to really modify those. So I spoke to Iliana Barreto, who lives in Manchester and is helping with census outreach largely to Latinos in her neighborhood. She's been distributing census materials to families who come to the local church to pick up food donations, and here's how it works.
Iliana Barreto: I have actually created packages in English, and Spanish and in Swahili with information regarding the census. And they have been distributed into every care package that has been distributed to every family on top of us, speaking with each individual member that actually comes in to pick up the food and just speaking with them on how important the census is.
Sarah Gibson: And, you know, it's interesting. During the pandemic, there has been a real focus on food drives and food donations, and the census got on that. They decided to help people distribute food, put those flyers and a lot of the bags. And actually a lot of kids and others were getting their food in 2020 census bags in the springtime. So, you know, there have been modifications made to operations so that folks who typically don't fill out the census know it's happening and know that their information by law should be kept confidential if they fill out the survey.
Rick Ganley: So what's next for census operations here in the Granite State?
Sarah Gibson: Well, there is tension in Washington, D.C. right now about the census timeline. But as far as I know, census workers will be coming door to door starting mid-August and here through October until every household is counted in New Hampshire. We're anticipating about 2,000 workers during that time. And the census is still really pushing people to respond online, if possible, at 2020census.gov. Here's the pitch that Nicole McKenzie gives if people haven't filled it out yet.
Nicole McKenzie: The numbers in their community is going to determine how much funding their community will get over the next 10 years. And you start telling them that, you know, this funding is for your schools. It's for health care. It's for roads. It's for housing. It's for food assistance. It's for grants. So many communities in New Hampshire rely on grants. They need this data to make a good case and a strong case so they can win that funding.
Sarah Gibson: And, you know, there are other pandemic related pitches being made right now. I spoke to folks in the North Country and they said that they're really reminding people that once there's a vaccine for the coronavirus, that will be distributed based on population numbers. So we really need to have an accurate count for everything from health, to funding, to highways.
Check out your community's response rate at www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us