An employee of the Census Bureau working to count people in a rural area of New Mexico in 1990.  Census workers will be counting Moore County residents in 2020.  They will probably not be on horseback.

Photo from U.S. Census Bureau

"We need to get a better count of every part of Moore County … ," said Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades.  He is putting together a group of county residents who will represent all of the different communities in the county.  It will be called the Complete Count Committee, and it will work to help the U.S. Census Bureau next year get an accurate count of the number of people living in the county.     

A lot is at stake.  The census takes place every 10 years, and it is mandated by the Constitution.  Whatever the results, people have to live with them for a decade.  Census data determine how congressional and legislative districts are drawn.  Officials at all levels of government use the data to determine how they will distribute money.  Not counting everyone living and using resources in the county means there will be less funding for services people rely on.  Private businesses also rely on census counts to make decisions about where they locate operations.  "It affects us as far as grants, police, schools, hospitals, everything," said Rhoades.  He gives the example of a nearby town that was trying to lure a well-known chain restaurant.  The restaurant's management relied on data from the 2010 census to determine whether or not to open a restaurant in the town.  According to Rhoades, the 2010 census missed a lot of people, and the residents ended up losing an opportunity to have a restaurant they were hoping for.  "They didn't have enough people," he said.

"About $675 billion per year is distributed to the states based on census population," said Vicki McIntire, Assistant Regional Census Manager, Field Division, U.S. Census Bureau.  "Making sure your community is recognized locally brings those funds back to the community."  The Census Bureau will begin counting in earnest in January, in the mean time, McIntire and the bureau are looking to enlist community organizations as partners and hire local employees to insure that everyone gets counted.  Diverse, rural communities like Moore County are a challenge, and the bureau wants to make a special effort to get an accurate count.  "Moore County is really important to us.  We are interested in getting a wide variety of people involved, from government officials, faith-based groups, community organizations, schools, basically anyone that is out there and has an influence on the community and its residents," she said.  The partner organizations will help get the word out about the importance of the census and encourage people to cooperate with the census process.  "These groups are the trusted voices, using messages and education that resonates with their community," said McIntire.  This is especially important in Moore County with its high number of refugees and immigrants, groups where English is a second language, and people are sometimes fearful of government.  

McIntire says the bureau has a group of local partnership specialists who will work with the organizations to help them get the word out.  For Moore County, the specialist is Clavio Garansuay of the Dallas Regional Census Center.  Organizations that would like to help with the census can contact him at 806-731-9655 or clavio.garansuay@2020census.gov.

Once the census gets underway, McIntire urges people to "self respond."  "They can do it in the privacy of their own home or a coffee shop.  Our data are more accurate when people self respond," she said.  Every home in the nation will receive a notice from the bureau by April 1, 2020.  There are three ways to self respond:  by internet, telephone, or mail.  

Those who do not respond themselves still have to be counted, so the bureau sends out employees to go door to door to count people and gather basic demographic data.  "We recruit and hire locally.  We really need community members to apply for our jobs.  It is really a way to help your community.  We are taking applications now and building up a pool of qualified people.  We will begin  hiring at the turn of the year," she said.  The bureau needs people who understand the various communities in Moore County and have the language skills to communicate with people and gain their trust.  She says the bureau has access to translators and interpreters in 12 languages, online and on the phone, for people self responding.  She says the temporary jobs with the Census Bureau are a good way to earn some extra money and help the community at the same time.  The employees work mostly on weekends and evenings, times when the people they are counting are most likely to be at home.  The hours are flexible, based on when people say they are available to work.  Most people end up working about 20 hours per week.  Employees must be 18 years old.  She says the pay is good and employees receive a reimbursement for gas used.  People interested in applying for census jobs can call 1-855-JOB-2020 or go online to 2020census.gov/jobs and apply.

McIntire says the bureau wants to count everyone, regardless of immigration status, and she emphasizes that all personal, individual information is safe and confidential.  By law, the bureau cannot share it with any other government entity.  Employees who take information are sworn for life to keep it confidential.  Both McIntire and Rhoads say there is nothing for anyone to fear from participating in the census;  there are only benefits to be gained.  "We want to make sure every community is represented," she said.  "It is vitally important."

"An accurate count is going to help everybody.  It is a big thing," said Rhoades.

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