Quick informational video from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The first few weeks of the 2020 Census aren’t going so well in Humboldt County and much of the rest of the North Coast — especially in the more rural parts of the region — and right now there’s plenty of concern that the coronavirus pandemic threatens to leave us significantly undercounted.

That’s why some local people are starting to raise the alarm early, even though the Census — that effort, undertaken every 10 years, to count everyone in America — still has a couple of months left to run. If Humboldt County isn’t counted properly, it will hurt us in innumerable ways over the next decade — schools and health care systems will be underfunded, disaster relief programs will shrink, federal and state grants will be diminished and our political power will be diluted.

“Each individual [counted in the Census] represents about $2,000 of funding to the county,” Connie Stewart, the executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy, told the Outpost last week. “That funding is for roads. It’s for the district attorney. It’s for hospitals. It’s for everything you can think that has to do with COVID. All the crises we are dealing with now, we would have more money to handle those crises if everyone takes the Census in our community.”

This year’s Census is easier and more efficient than ever before, as people can, for the first time, fill it out online in a matter of a few minutes. But the ease and efficiency isn’t evenly distributed, and the COVID-19 crisis is now throwing a wrench in plans to get rural and underserved communities — much of Humboldt — properly counted.

A few weeks ago, throughout the United States, letters from the Census Bureau started showing up at homes with regular street addresses with home mail delivery. Each letter contained a special code tied to that home, with instructions on how to go online and fill out the Census for the members of that particular household.

The early results from that effort are in, and Humboldt and other North Coast counties are lagging far behind the state and the nation:

Internet Self Response Rate
North Coast Counties
USA 41.3%
California 40.90%
Humboldt 32.6%
Trinity 3.0%
Del Norte 35.2%
Mendocino 28.8%
Internet Self Response Rate
Humboldt County Cities
Arcata 39.4%
Blue Lake 2.3%
Eureka 41.0%
Ferndale 7.2%
Fortuna 38.4%
* As of April 2. Data from the U.S Census Bureau, via CCRP. 

One problem, as indicated in the charts above, is that “regular street addresses” are unevenly distributed. If communities have little-to-no direct mail delivery to homes — as is the case in Trinity County, Blue Lake and Ferndale — those communities got few to none of these letters.

This was a known problem, and the next phase of the effort would have been, as per usual, sending Census employees out to all the small towns and along the rural routes to attempt to reach people at their homes (and also to reach those without homes). But the COVID-19 pandemic has put that phase on hold for the time being, which means that the more urban areas of the country are currently over-represented in the count. 

In the meanwhile, people concerned with Census outreach — including Humboldt State’s California Center for Rural Policy — are attempting to notify people who didn’t get a letter that they, too, can and should take the Census, either online (at this link) or over the phone (by calling 844-330-2020).

“Even if you don’t have money to donate, you are donating money every year if you fill out a Census form,” Stewart said. “People are desperately looking for things that they can do to help our community right now. This is one of those things. You can stay at home and be safe and fill out the Census form, and you will be helping to send money to the to the key infrastructure needs of our community.”

How to take the Census in 2020.