Census enumerators traveling Clayton County to assure residents are counted

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Joan Burns, who’s based in McGregor, is one of at least a dozen Census enumerators traveling around Clayton County to assure residents are counted. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

If you haven’t responded to the 2020 U.S. Census, you’ll soon have a visitor knocking at your door—if you haven’t already. 

Joan Burns, who’s based in McGregor, is one of at least a dozen enumerators traveling around Clayton County to assure residents are counted.

“It’s easy and doesn’t take much time,” she stressed. “And it’s so important. The trade-off is increased federal funding at the local, county and state levels for roads, social services, hospitals and schools. It also reallocates members of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“Every voice, every person, matters, whether you rent or own, whether you’re an infant or 95,” Burns added.

Without an accurate count, Clayton County and its individual communities have a lot to lose. Although Iowa has one of the best Census response rates in the country, at 69.7 percent, the county isn’t helping that statistic. Just 62.1 percent of residents have responded so far—11th worst in the state.

All households received a Census mailing earlier this year, with a unique 12-digit code, encouraging them to complete the form online, by phone or by mail. Anyone who hasn’t responded gets a knock on their door. Some people who responded are even recontacted.

“That’s for quality control,” Burns explained.

Census enumerators had planned to train in April, then begin visiting homes afterward.

“But with COVID-19, there’s been a lot of obstacles,” said Burns. “We didn’t get started until August, and they want it wrapped up at the end of September,” a month earlier than originally anticipated. “We’re really under a time crunch.”

The pandemic has impacted the Census in other ways too. There’s a shortage of help since many potential enumerators are part of the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus and didn’t feel comfortable participating this year. For those who are working, training was condensed.

“In person, I filled out paperwork and was issued a badge, device and bag,” Burns said, “then the training was online. There were a lot of hiccups getting people up and running.”

She said much of that centered around the device, or smart phone, each enumerator uses to enter information. This year, for the first time ever, Census collection is paperless. That makes it tricky when devices malfunction or service is spotty, as it can be in Clayton County.

Enumerators receive a case list through their device each day.

“It’s always more than you can do—today I had 51 addresses to start with,” Burns shared. “My goal is to do half.”

They can work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except on Sundays, when it’s 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Evenings and weekends are incentivized, but a lot of people are home during the day,” Burns said. “I go out a mixture of times.”

Enumerators can be identified with official badges. They won’t enter your home and will wear face coverings for safety purposes.

The series of questions they’ll ask this year is simple: name, birth date, race, national origin and whether you rent or own at your residence.

“People can be hesitant to share, but they shouldn’t be. It’s solely for the sake of funding,” Burns said. “Enumerators are sworn to confidentiality—we’re forbidden from sharing that information.”

“So far,” she noted, “people have been cooperative, kind and helpful.”

If you’re not home when an enumerator stops by, he or she will leave a notice of visit on your door. The notice will contain the residence’s 12-digit code, allowing you to respond on your own. Otherwise, the enumerator will return two more times.

“We will be persistent,” said Burns.

If that fails, a landlord, utility company or government agency will be contacted to help fill out the form via proxy. 

“It’s not a complete capture, as they may not know race or birth date,” Burns remarked, “but if we can say a male around 60 years old lives here, that will satisfy it.”

Burns said enumerators will likely use all of September to collect responses in Clayton County. Despite the time constraint, she’s enjoyed helping.

“It’s fun if you have a flexible schedule, enjoy meeting new people and being active in your community,” she shared. “I love working in Clayton County. There’s such a beautiful mix of residential areas and rural farm homes.”

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