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Politics / Issues

Greater Tampa Bay Residents Encouraged To Self-Report In U.S. Census

A masked US Census taker takes notes in the field
2020census.gov
Those who do not self-report to the U.S. Census can expect a home visit from a census-taker. Field interviews are expected to start in the next two weeks.

The U.S. Census, an effort to count every person living in the country, is underway. So far, the greater Tampa Bay region’s response rate ranges from 58 to 63 percent.

Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional manager for the U.S. Census Bureau, said that rate is about in line with the rest of the country.

“The national response rate is 62.3 percent,” she said.

The count began just as the coronavirus pandemic was breaking out in March. Even so, Stephens said the virus has not had much of an impact on the self-response phase of the census, because people are replying “online, by phone or by mail.”

The next phase of data collection begins in August and will include the door-to-door canvassing of non-respondents. It's an opportunity for the state to improve its response rate up from the low 60th percentile.

“We’re hoping that the self-response, even before we hit the field in the next two weeks, will be where it was in previous cycles,” Stephens said. “We would like to see the state of Florida hit in the 70s.”

The Bureau encourages full participation because so much is tied to the count.

"Most people don't realize," Stephens said, "that the primary reason is to determine how many seats each state gets in Congress. And the more seats a state has, the bigger that state's voice."

The census also helps allocate more than $675 billion in federal funds each year to be used at the local level for basic social services.

“Adequate resources,” Stephens said, “for emergency management, for infrastructure, for education, for services for veterans and services to seniors. More than 140 programs that communities in the state of Florida depend on.”

The once-every-10-years head count is also tied to trillions of dollars over the next decade.

Undercounted communities risk missing out on the money. 

When asked how President Trump’s move this week to exclude the count of unauthorized immigrants from the numbers used to divide up seats in Congress might affect participation, Stephens said she couldn’t speak to that, but she did offer that “we heard about it the same way everyone else did.”