After grinding to a near halt earlier this year as the COVID-19 health crisis heated up across the nation, the Census Bureau recently began restarting the effort to count every person living in the United States and Moore County -- with precautions instituted to protect both Census Bureau employees and those they have to count. Employees have been given masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. They undergo training in how to interact safely with each other and the public. Whether they are working in the field or in offices, six feet of social distancing is mandatory, and groups of 10 or more are prohibited.
Earlier in the year, the bureau mailed out census packets to addresses in Moore County and the rest of the country. People were asked to fill in the form and either mail it back to the Census Bureau, call it in by telephone, or submit it online.
At the same time, the bureau began creating a small army of employees who would go door to door and interview in person, often in languages other than English, people who had not voluntarily sent in their information. Those interviews were originally scheduled to begin in May.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, operations stopped. Questions were raised about whether the census could even be completed this year at all. But with the census mandated by the Constitution of the United States to take place every 10 years, and both congressional representation and the distribution of billions of dollars in government money and programs at stake, canceling or postponing the census until next year was not really an option.
Luckily, as the intensity of the pandemic has eased and social distancing restrictions have begun to be relaxed, the Census Bureau has been able to press on with the count. Recently, workers finished taking census packets to homes not reached by mail. The workers left the packets hanging on door handles -- no person-to-person contact involved. In Moore County, 24.4 percent, or 1,960 households were not reachable by mail and received packets at the door. So far, according to the most recent Census Bureau data, 44.6 percent of Moore County residents have mailed their completed form to the Census Bureau, called in their information by telephone, or sent it to the bureau online. Of the three cities in Moore County, 52.7 percent of Dumas residents, 30.5 percent of Sunray and 17.5 percent of Cactus residents have responded. Nationally, the figure is 61.5 percent; statewide in Texas it is 56.2 percent.
Census Bureau staff say self reporting is important. Vicki McIntire, Assistant Regional Census Manager, Field Division, U.S. Census Bureau said in an interview last year, "Our data are more accurate when people self respond." In addition, the more people self respond, the less face-to-face contact census workers will have to have with the public in the middle of a pandemic.
The door-to-door interviews are now scheduled to begin in August, according to Census Bureau personnel. So far, the bureau has filled 125 of the 157 positions needed to get a complete count of the people living in Moore County. The bureau is still recruiting, especially people with language skills. Though the bureau has enough Spanish speakers, there is still a need for people who can communicate in one or more of the 15 different languages spoken in Moore County.
One of the challenges of conducting the census in Moore County with its diverse, multilingual population is reaching all segments of the population. The bureau has teamed up with local organizations such as the Dumas and Sunray Independent School Districts to try to reach everyone. The stakes are high. Communities have to live with the results of the count for 10 years. As McIntire said last year, "About $675 billion per year is distributed to the states based on census population. Making sure your community is recognized locally brings those funds back to the community." Having an accurate count in Moore County also insures that county residents have the appropriate amount of political representation. Census data is used in drawing congressional and legislative districts.
The census "affects us as far as grants, police, schools, hospitals, everything," said Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades.
McIntire says it is important to count everyone, regardless of immigration status. She says the bureau is prohibited by law from sharing personal, identifying data with any government agency, including law enforcement. "We want to make sure every community is represented," she said. "It is vitally important."
Rhoades says there is nothing for anyone to fear from the census. There are only benefits. "An accurate count is going to help everybody. It is a big thing."
Those interested in applying for a job with the Census Bureau should call 1-855-JOB-2020 or go online to 2020census.gov/jobs. Most work is on weekends and in the evenings, and hours are flexible.