Wednesday, July 28, 2021

It’s time to stand up and be counted

| May 10, 2020 1:00 AM

The 2020 U.S. Census got rolling as expected in January, but just a couple of months later the task of counting every citizen and non-citizen in America took a back seat to the unprecedented fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was no surprise, but now it’s time to play catch-up.

Montana census workers are now some of the first in the nation to resume on-the-ground operations as the U.S. Census Bureau scrambles to resume the Herculean task of counting every man, woman and child in this country amid myriad restrictions still in place because of the pandemic. This could well be the most difficult census of all time. Getting an accurate count in the Big Sky State is especially important this time around because we’re on the cusp of regaining a U.S. House of Representative seat that was lost many years ago when the population dipped below the threshold.

According to data from the Census Bureau, Montana’s self-response rate is 48.8%, lower than the national rate of just over 57.3%. Flathead County’s self-response rate is a bit lower, at just 47.3%. Montana is challenged because a lot of folks live in really remote areas throughout the state — think about places such as the Yaak region of Northwest Montana, or Ekalaka in Montana’s southeast corner. A media specialist for the Census Bureau told the Inter Lake this week he expects Montana will have a much higher self-response race in the coming weeks as census workers deliver physical census forms to households. Roughly 15 percent of Montanans live in places where they won’t receive census instruction until a worker shows up at their door with the paperwork.

And it should be noted that given the independent spirit of many Montanans, there are a few people out there who don’t want to be found and don’t want to be counted. That’s unfortunate, because in addition to the potential of gaining another U.S. House seat, the once-in-a-decade count determines the amount of federal funding, including highway money and Medicare funding, Montana will get based on its population. Census data influences policy making and planning for the next decade.

If your household received a postcard from the Census Bureau asking you to fill out the questionnaire online, but just haven’t gotten to it, do it now. It only takes a few minutes. We also encourage those in rural areas to follow through once a census worker shows up at your doorstep.

It’s time to stand up and be counted, or suffer the consequences of Montana not getting its fair share of financial compensation.