With nearly a trillion dollars in federal funding being apportioned each year based on Census results, an accurate, complete count is crucial to county governments and their residents. Funding for health care, economic development, infrastructure, education and other critical county responsibilities are all informed by Census results. County governments must be prepared to navigate challenges in achieving a complete Census count in 2020, including concerns about data security, the impacts of moving to an online form for populations without adequate internet and technology access and shifting timelines and strategies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As local county elected leaders, I cannot stress enough how the 2020 Census is more important than ever. Billions of dollars of federal funding for roads, schools, small businesses, hospitals and emergency response is at stake.”
– Cook County, Ill. Commissioner Stanley Moore Chairman of the Complete Count Census Commission and co-chair of NACo’s Census 2020 Working Group
Since early 2019, many counties around the country have been hard at work preparing for the 2020 Census by organizing local Complete Count Committees, coordinating with other governmental partners, and developing relationships with community organizations. No county government or Complete Count Committee, however, could have known to prepare for a global pandemic that would halt Census field operations, restrict public gatherings and, for a time, place most of the country under stay at home orders. As counties face significant challenges for economic recovery and the potential for future surges in coronavirus cases, the importance of the Census and its impact on county governments has never been more evident. Below you can find county-focused resources for the Census rollout, including federal guidelines, up to date analyses and examples of counties using innovative strategies to ensure an accurate count.
Research and Data
Census Bureau Guidance
Census 2020 Working Group
Additional Resources from NACo
Receive Email Updates
NACo’s County Explorer map provides real-time data for self-response rates across the nation’s 3,069 counties. As of September 30, 31.7 percent of counties are above the national average of 66.5% in census completion rates.
Update: On October 13, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau Statement the self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census will conclude on October 15, 2020.
Update: On October 2, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau Statement on Oct. 1 Court Ruling
Update: As of September 25, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will comply with the Court’s order and continue our Nonresponse Follow-up Operation (NRFU). Field staff have been instructed to continue with current operations until updates can be provided.
Update: On September 5, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau field leadership notified regional and area census office leaders of a temporary restraining order (in the case of National Urban League v. Ross, No. 20-05799) that requires the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department not alter Census field operations to comply with the August 3 change in deadline moving data collection from October 31 to September 30 until the Court conducts its September 17 hearing on Plaintiffs’ PI motion.
COVID-19 Delays 2020 Census Response Collection and Timeline
The 2020 Census self-response period – when households across America would complete the Census online, via mail or via phone – was originally scheduled to run from March 12 to July 31. Just six days into the self-response period, as 140 million households nationwide began receiving initial invitations to complete the Census, the Census Bureau suspended all field operations in response to the burgeoning outbreak. The deadline was shifted to April 1 and then again through April 15, during which time Census Bureau field offices were supposed to be at “peak operations,” hiring and training staff and planning for following up with non-responders.
As the novel coronavirus outbreak escalated into a pandemic, the 2020 Census operational timeline continued to shift. On August 3, the Census Bureau announced an updated operational timeline, including the following key changes:
- Data collection will end on September 30
Self-response options will also close on September 30 to permit the commencement of data processing
The shift in timeline coincides with a phased restart of field operations, including hiring non-response field staff and resuming the update leave process starting the week of May 4. As of June 5, more than 90 percent of field operations staff have returned to work.
“As local county elected leaders, I cannot stress enough how the 2020 Census is more important than ever,” said Cook County (Ill.) Commissioner Stanley Moore, Chairman of the Complete Count Census Commission and Co-Chair of NACo’s Census 2020 Working Group. “Billions of dollars of federal funding for roads, schools, small businesses, hospitals and emergency response is at stake. If we don’t have a complete and accurate count, each of our counties are witnessing first-hand how the impact of the Census data has influenced the federal government’s distribution of financial and emergency management resources to our areas to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
NACo formed a working group to support local efforts to ensure that the 2020 Census reflects each county’s full population. The bipartisan working group, comprised of NACo members representing rural, suburban and urban areas, will highlight the importance of county leadership on census outreach. It will also strategically advise NACo and counties nationwide on effective approaches to ensuring that every resident is counted.
CENSUS 2020 WORKING GROUP
- Hon. Jason Brinkley, Judge, Cooke County, Texas
- Hon. Stanley Moore, Commissioner, Cook County, Ill.
- Hon. Lena Fowler, Supervisor, Coconino County, Ariz.
- Hon. George Murdock, Commissioner, Umatilla County, Ore.
- Hon. Ilene Shapiro, Executive, Summit County, Ohio
- Hon. John Wilson, Assessor, King County, Wash.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had similar impacts on county-led Census efforts regardless of size, type or region. As a result of the outbreak, county leaders’ focus abruptly and comprehensively shifted to pandemic response efforts. Previously developed outreach strategies became less relevant as in-person events were cancelled and the capacity of key partners like school districts and libraries have been severely limited. To overcome these challenges, counties and their partners have responded with a variety of creative solutions to further outreach in hard to count communities, develop messaging to communicate the importance of the Census, and provide access to complete the Census online. Several themes emerged:
- Promoting Census messages at locations that have seen increased demand as a result of the pandemic
- Using inexpensive, “low tech” tactics that can be implemented by community-based organizations, who remain trusted messengers among hard to count communities
- Developing public messaging that directly connects the pandemic response and its impact on daily life to the importance of the Census
- Maximizing internet access points in communities with lower rates of broadband access
Cook County, Ill.
Faith based organizations may not be able to promote Census participation in person, but they can still deliver Census messages to their members. In Cook County, some churches include a Census message as part of their regular health and wellness checks on their congregants during the pandemic. Other community-based organizations have rented vans, attached loud speakers and delivered Census messages as they drive throughout different neighborhoods.
Arlington County, Va.
Rather than attempting to compete for the public’s attention with coronavirus response, leaders in Arlington County are working to help the public understand how pandemic response and economy recovery efforts are linked to the Census. A complete count will aid regional economic recovery by ensuring counties receive their fair share of resources. Census data will inform the county’s decision-making for key investments such as where COVID-19 testing centers should be located.
Coconino County, Ariz.
Internet access and mobile phone coverage are significant challenges in a county that averages eight residents per each of its 18,661 square miles. In response, County Supervisor Lena Fowler led the development of WiFi asset maps that identify both public and private hotspots and internet access points in different cities and towns throughout the County. In practice, these maps could result in people parking outside of an area fair grounds and using a personal or County device to complete the form online. “When the next town that has WiFi is 90 minutes away, we have to know and publicize the exact locations where people can get online,” said Supervisor Fowler.
Desoto County, Miss.
Creative partnerships with local business and nonprofits can be valuable in assisting counties in advancing Census engagement and outreach, particularly in low-response areas. DeSoto County, Miss. collaborated with local business Buff City Soap and a local food bank to ramp up messaging by adding a Census information banner to donated soap given away at the food bank. "When businesses step up and join forces with the county, the partnerships can make a lasting impact. Buff City Soap opened less than a year ago and it’s wonderful how they are reaching out to give back to the community." – DeSoto County Supervisor Lee Caldwell.