LIHU‘E — Only 19.8% of households in Kaua‘i have responded to the 2020 Census since it opened last month. That’s almost two times less than the national average of 38.4%, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.
April 1 marked Census Day, and the count continues despite much of the county’s activities being put on hold.
Eugene Tian is part of the research and economic analysis team for the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
He said many households in Kaua‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i counties utilize P.O. boxes to receive their mail. In these cases, census questionnaires are hand-delivered to the physical address in an operation called “Update Leave”. And since all in-person census duties have been suspended until April 15, these deliveries have been delayed.
“Due to COVID-19, that operation is currently on hold. So, many Hawaiian households have not yet received their questionnaires,” Tian wrote in an email Wednesday.
This is the first-year residents can submit their responses online. As of Wednesday, only 19.8% of households have reported in Hawai‘i with the internet response rate at 17.5%
In 2000, 57% of households self-reported, and in 2010, that number dropped to 52.1% when the only way to be counted was through mailed in responses.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the 2010 count missed 16 million people, double-counted 8.5 million and counted another 1.5 million by mistake or in the wrong place.
Census responses help the government gauge where to send federal funds. On Kaua‘i, that looks like money for 167 miles of roads and 59 bridges, in addition to schools and hospitals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed libraries which are usually hubs for people to come into and fill out the census, Tian said. “Luckily, there are multiple ways to respond this year, and everyone will still eventually receive a paper questionnaire once operations resume,” Tian said.
Locally, census teams that had plans to host events to inform people have also been canceled or delayed.
“But everyone is being creative and remains committed to ensuring a complete count for Hawai‘i,” Tian said. “We are all re-deploying resources, changing plans and being as flexible and innovative as possible to work through this challenging time.”
Dale Rosenfeld, a field representative with the Census Bureau, partakes in surveys year-round. She tracks unemployment by following a household, completing eight interviews in the course of a year. She’s continuing her work by phone during these times.
“The thing is, we need more money for schools, roads and hospitals now that our tax [tourism] is going to be gone,” Rosenfeld said.
“If you’re called, answer the questions,” Rosenfeld urged. “Our money comes from answering the questions.”
For every 1% of the state’s population that’s not counted, the state loses about $37 million each year for the next 10 years, Mayor Derek Kawakami reported.
The self-response phase of the Census has been extended through Aug. 14. The 2020 Census can be filled out at my2020census.gov or by phone at 1-844-330-2020 by using a physical address.