Enumerator Linda Rothfield’s government-issued iPhone kept sending her back to apartments in San Francisco that she already knew were vacant. When she found apartments occupied, she was sometimes turned away because of the pandemic.
âI’ve had a few homeowners who have said, ‘It’s COVID. You can’t come in, âRothfield said.
In a nationwide workforce shattered by natural disasters, political unrest and a deadly virus, apartment tenants proved particularly difficult to count last year. This made former enumerators and experts fear that the count did not take them all into account.
Neglecting the inhabitants of the country’s 44 million rental units comes at a potentially high price. Because the census helps determine how $ 1.5 trillion in federal money is spent each year, the lower numbers would mean less government assistance to pay for schools, roads, and medical services in these communities.
In the United States, about 36% of dwellings are occupied by renters, up from 33% in the last census ten years ago.
At the best of times, renters are among the hardest people to count because they tend to be more transient and are more likely to live below the poverty line. They also tend to be disproportionately people of color, who are also traditionally underestimated in the census, according to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, a civil rights group.
Incomplete data on the race or ethnicity of tenants could also hamper the formation of majority black or Hispanic political constituencies.
Renters generally have lower auto-response rates than landlords, so the government relies more on enumerators knocking on their doors, said Jeri Green, a former senior advisor to the Census Bureau, who served consultant to the National Urban League during the 2020 census.
âThis is a population that was at risk of being missed before COVID,â Green said. “We know it is a challenge for the Census Bureau to accurately enumerate tenants.”
In the 2010 census, tenants were underestimated by 1.1%, but the rate was higher for some tenants. According to the Leadership Conference Education Fund, black male renters aged 30 to 49 were underrated by 12.2% and Hispanic male renters aged 18 to 29 were underrated by 8.6%.
Delays due to the pandemic have caused the Census Bureau to eliminate a head start on the knock on door phase where census supervisors meet with building managers or landlords to find out which apartments were vacant or occupied, so that enumerators don’t waste their time knocking on vacant units, the agency said in a statement.
“We were however able to inform the owners or managers that the enumerators would surrender and ask for their cooperation before the start of the operation,” the statement said, adding that office officials were confident in the work. enumerators.
In cases where tenants did not respond to census questionnaires or enumerators were unable to interview them, the Census Bureau had to use other, less reliable methods to count them. These methods included using administrative records from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration, requesting information from neighbors or postmen, or using a statistical technique of last resort.
Some 60% of census supervisors surveyed by the Governmental Accountability Office for a study of 2020 census operations said their enumerators had difficulty filling out records because they could not enter apartment buildings.
âThe pandemic has made communication with building managers difficult,â GAO said in a report released in March. âSpecifically (supervisors) told us that enumerators were often prevented from accessing multi-unit buildings due to the pandemic. “
Nathan Bean, a census supervisor in Chicago, said that even when he was able to reach property managers by phone last summer, they often said, âWe’re not going to answer your calls. We’re not going to answer your questions.
The number of tenants who have been underestimated, if they have actually been missed, will only be known in December and early next year with the publication of a survey that measures the accuracy of the count.
The Census Bureau has previously released the 2020 census figures used to decide how many congressional seats each state gets, and those figures showed just how big a difference a few dozen people counted or ignored made a big difference. If 89 more people had been counted, New York would not have lost a seat in Congress. If 26 people had been missed in Minnesota, Gopher State would have lost a seat.
The figures used to redraw the legislative and legislative constituencies will not be ready until August.
Jan Rice, who worked as a census taker in Denver, said she was frustrated that she could not contact apartment managers herself so she could get information on occupied units and remove vacant units from the base. data, thus preventing other enumerators from wasting their time. When she tried it on, her supervisor told her, âYour job is to knock on doors,â she said.
âIt killed our productivity,â Rice said. âIf you don’t count them correctly, you don’t give them a voice. “