The self-reported response to the U.S. Census from the Outer Cape has been extremely low so far — under 25 percent for all four towns. Truro’s rate is the second lowest in the state, with only 5.2 percent of households self-reporting.
Statewide and national response rates are both around 60 percent.
These low response rates likely result from two factors. First, many houses are second homes, whose owners may not realize they must fill out a census form for each of their residences. For their second homes, they should indicate that zero people live there, to save census workers time trying to figure out whether anyone is home.
The second reason is that the federal government does not send census forms to post office boxes. That means in Truro, where there is no street delivery, nobody has received census identification numbers or instructions about how to complete the census.
New York Regional Census Bureau director Jeff Behler told the Independent that P.O. boxes are not tied to street addresses, which means they can’t be used to collect data. Therefore, for places like Truro, “They never got anything from the census asking them to respond,” he said.
Forms for completing the federal census, a count of every U.S. resident as of April 1, 2020, will eventually be hand-delivered to houses that do not receive mail delivery. Census workers started delivering those packages on March 15 but had to stop two days later due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In normal times, it would take only about two weeks to complete package delivery across the Northeast.
As states begin to reopen, census workers are starting to deliver packages again. Deliveries began in Maine and Vermont last week, but Behler is not sure when they will be able to get going in Massachusetts.
Behler said his office is following state and local guidelines to protect census workers. This year, census workers will not knock on doors. Rather, they’ll leave packages on doorsteps. “There’s no need to interact with the public for this operation, so we’re thinking we’ll start sooner rather than later,” Behler said.
Although it’s possible to fill out the census without an identification number by entering your street address online or over the phone, Behler encouraged residents to wait for the package to be delivered. “We’re asking residents to be patient,” he said. “If they complete it online without their I.D., and what they write doesn’t exactly match our street address, we will have to send someone out there to knock on their door.”
As the Independent reported on Dec. 6, the census bureau was having some difficulty recruiting workers. At that time, they had received only about 700 applications, a quarter of their goal. Now, however, Behler said that the bureau has met its goal for recruiting workers.
“There’s been no issue,” he said. “We’ve fully staffed all of our operations to date. But we’re still allowing people to apply. Some people who applied six months ago may no longer be interested in a position that goes door to door.”
Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Kristy Senatori said that the commission’s Complete Count Committee is trying to ensure that hard to count populations, like seniors, respond to the census. But with on the ground operations stalled, they’ve switched to using social media for outreach.
“Because we have an older demographic who are taking social distancing seriously, we have a lower response rate,” Senatori said. “Some people are having difficulty responding to the census.”
Each council on aging in Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham is offering to help seniors complete the census. Those having difficulties with technology or other questions can call their local council to ask for assistance.
The census bureau has asked Congress for an extension until April 30, 2021, to complete the 2020 census, which determines federal and state funding, along with legislative representation, for the next decade.
The original deadline for responding to the census was July 31. That has now been extended until Oct. 31, 2020.