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Idaho Is One Of First States To Begin U.S. Census Door Knocking

U.S. Census Bureau

COVID-19 put many of the U.S. Census Bureau's efforts to ensure a complete count of the country's population on hold. The agency is starting a major component of its in-person outreach on Thursday, and Idaho is one of the first states where it'll be working.

The Census Bureau typically begins door-knocking in early spring. This year, due to stay-at-home orders, the agency suspended most of its field operations. NPR reported that census workers would begin follow-up visits to households that had not completed the census, starting this week with operations in six states: Idaho, Maine, Okalhoma, West Virginia, Louisiana and Missouri.


Census workers from communities across Idaho will knock on doors if a household has not self-responded to the census. A few households that have filled out the form will be included for quality control measures.

Census workers are required to wear masks, said Lucy Jeffrey, the area census office manager for the Boise census office, which covers the whole state. Face masks are provided to the enumerators who are trained to ask people the census questions, including about the age, race and sex of the household members. 


The interviews, which take about 10 minutes, will be conducted outdoors when possible, and six feet apart, said Jeffrey. 


If a census worker comes to a household that does not want to participate in the in-person interview due to safety concers, it can accept a form that's usually left at the door when no one answers. But census workers will return if that household doesn't fill out the form.  


Idaho was chosen to be part of the "soft launch" for the in-person interview process, in part, because the Boise office stood out as being on top of its field operations, Jeffrey said. Also because of "our readiness, as far as 'COVID,'" she said. When the Census Bureau announced it would be part of the first cohort for this phase on July 1, Idaho was already seeing an uptick in coronavirus cases. 


COVID-19 has had some impacts on the Boise office's work. Some Idahoans that had been training as enumerators dropped out.


“It’s usually people who are in the higher risk groups that are telling us they do not feel comfortable going door to door," Jeffrey said.


There are 1,300 Idahoans working as enumerators now for the Census Bureau. Jeffrey said she'd like to increase that number by 200 to 500 more workers, so the Boise office is holding more trainings.


In Idaho, 65.5% of households have responded to the census so far. That’s just above the national rate of 62%. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho has the highest self-response rate in the state with nearly 85% of households responding. For counties, Ada County leads the way with a self-response rate of 75%.

The Census Bureau says the best way to avoid a census taker knocking on the door is to fill out the census online, by phone or by mail

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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