The 2020 U.S. Census survey started in March and the response rate from the Key Peninsula is significantly lower than it is in the rest of the Tacoma census area.
While more than two-thirds of households in Pierce County had responded by July 15, the response rate from the three census tracts on the KP was between 43 and 52%.
One explanation may be the way residents receive the survey.
“We mail to where people live, not where they receive their mail,” said Toby Nelson, a Census Bureau spokesman. Residents received surveys if they had mail delivered to their homes and were asked to complete the survey and return it or do it online.
Residents with post office boxes did not receive census forms. Census workers were supposed to deliver forms to their front doors between mid-March and mid-April, but the pandemic disrupted that plan, suspended after only two days with 10% of households reached.
The operation started again in June and has now been completed. Anyone not receiving the survey can respond online or by phone. The census form included a 12-digit identification number, but that number is not required to complete the survey.
A 1978 law prevents any information identifiable to an individual from being released except to that individual or heir for 72 years.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on timing and deadlines this year, especially for those operations involving in-person field activities. The deadline for self-response was moved from July 31 to Oct 31. The Update Leave operation, which delivered surveys to those households without a physical mailing address, was delayed by two months. Counting the homeless, which involves collecting data through service providers, where people may gather and at other outdoor locations, was rescheduled from late March to mid-September. In-person interviews of non-responders were delayed by three months.
Enumerators, the workers who conduct the interviews, will begin outreach Aug. 11, but Pierce County is one of 12 areas in the country where the process was launched July 23, to test and refine the process.
According to Nelson, if no one is reached by the enumerators, which is the case in about 1% of all dwellings, a statistical method is used to complete the census. That process could take until the end of the year. The final apportionment count will be delivered April 30, 2021.
The Constitution requires the population to be counted every 10 years. The results affect the number of representatives in Congress and how federal, state and local funds are allocated for hospitals, fire departments, transportation systems, school lunch programs and other critical programs and services. Business owners rely on census results to make decisions, such as where to open new stores, restaurants, factories or offices, and where to expand operations.
According to the Washington State Office of Financial Management, for every 100 households missed in the 2020 count, the state could lose up to $5.8 million.
KP Fire Chief Dustin Morrow said the fire district uses grants to help pay for projects such as the exhaust ventilation systems in the stations and powered lift cots for ambulances. “When we apply and subsequently are awarded these grant funds, a local match is required. The dollar amount of the match is based upon the population served. This information comes from the census,” he said.
The district also needs an accurate population count for planning purposes. They are in the process of creating a comprehensive strategic plan and an emergency response policy. “Both of these processes, once complete, will inform the Board of Fire Commissioners and the public on the short-, mid- and long-term needs of emergency services on the Key Peninsula. Having a clear understanding of our population will again be critical information to have as we complete this work,” Morrow said.
The census also affects school funding.
“An accurate count of the Key Peninsula is important for us as a metric to get an equitable share of our tax dollars back into the community,” said Peninsula School District board member Chuck West. “We have grown so much, and we need services and infrastructure improvements to keep up with the demand. We need to count everyone.”
The census can be completed online at 2020census.gov or by phone at 800-330-2020. The deadline is Oct. 31.