Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution mandates the government count the people living in this country. That count helps to shape aspects of our lives at the national, state and local levels, including local funding for our communities. So far, Wyoming's self-response rate is 55 percent. But Wyoming Economic Analysis Division principal economist Amy Bittner said that isn't a reason to worry right now. Bittner spoke to Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler about how Wyoming's response rate is stacking up against the rest of the country.
Amy Bittner: It is lower than the nation and it is lower than other states. But, you know, some houses in Wyoming are just small receiving their questionnaires or their invites to respond to the census. And that's because the way that houses received their questionnaires, they either get it in the mail. For example, mine came in the mail and I filled it out. Or if you live in more rural parts of the state and maybe don't get mail at your house, or get mail at a P.O. Box, the way that the Census Bureau gets the questionnaire to you is they leave it on your door. And the whole COVID-19 virus thing shut down the Census Bureau's field operations. So they were supposed to go, you know, hand deliver those questionnaires at those houses at the end of March, but they couldn't. And so they just now are resuming those operations. So some housing units have just now restarted receiving their census questionnaire.
Catherine Wheeler: The rate right now, like you said, maybe on the lower end compared to some other states, but doesn't necessarily mean people are just ignoring the census in Wyoming. As of right now, it's more the nature of how people live here.
AB: Right. I think there's about 67,000 housing units in Wyoming that receive their questionnaire left at their door. But on the flip side, people can respond to the census for, you know, their housing unit and the people that are living in their house without getting anything. Because this time around for the 2020 census people can respond online. And that wasn't an option before. This is the first time that you can respond online. So people can go to my2020census.gov, and they can respond online to their questionnaire. The invites that we received in the mail and the questionnaires are left on people's doors. They do have a unique code. But you don't have to have that to fill it out online. It allows you to type in your address. If it recognizes your address, you can move forward with completing your questionnaire online. You can also call and and complete your questionnaire via phone if maybe you don't have internet access, or maybe you're not online savvy.
CW: Are there any challenges to counting particular groups or people with the census?
AB: There are typically certain populations that have historically been hard to count. People who move around a lot, housing units who have multiple families in it, housing units where maybe the people living there don't speak English very well, maybe there's a different language spoken in that house. College students are sometimes difficult to count because they should be counted where they go to school, and maybe they think, 'Oh, my parents will just count me on their census form'. So yeah, there are certain parts of our population that are deemed hard to count. Everybody should be counted who, you know, are living here regardless of citizenship, regardless of how many families are living in maybe one housing unit. It's just important that everybody who is, you know, living in the state who is living in the U.S. be counted.
CW: Yeah. And I guess, jumping off that point, why is it important to be able to count everyone where they live?
AB: I think the thing that resonates most with people is maybe the dollar assets. You know, federal funding is distributed based on population numbers, even some of our state revenue, it is distributed based on the Decennial account, and when I say just any account that means the count every 10 years. It's important, you know, for communities for planning purposes. People need to know the demographics of their communities, how many people are in their communities to plan for, like, health care for businesses, you know, to plan and determine maybe if they open a location in a certain area. You know, and I think the COVID-19 situation is a good example of that. Maybe it might resonate more with people because, you know, for emergencies, planning, and getting funding. So you know, the count that you get in 2020, that's the count that they'll use for the next 10 years. So you want to make sure you get it right.
CW: So what are the next steps? How long do people have to respond to the census now?
AB: It's not too late for people to answer their census form. Just because, you know, the Census Bureau has extended what they call the self response meaning, people respond to the questionnaire themselves versus having an enumerator come out. So people can still fill out if they got a questionnaire left at their door, they can hand fill it out, they can still go online and complete it, and they can also call on the telephone. That period has been extended through October. But of course, the sooner that people do it, the better. The more people respond the better response rate we get. And you know, it saves from having to send census workers out, you know, which that was so that will tentatively start I think around August is when they will send out enumerators to go follow up at those households that haven't completed their survey. So you know, even though it's past census day, April 1, 2020 people still have plenty of time, you know, to complete their survey.