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Despite Strong Census Response, Idaho's Push To Reach Undercounted Groups Continues

U.S. Census Bureau

As of Wednesday, nearly 95% of Idaho households had filled out the 2020 census, which is the highest rate of all states so far. But Idaho might’ve had a leg up, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was one of the first states to send census workers door to door in July, helping people who hadn’t yet participated.


A few weeks ago, the Census Bureau announced the deadline for people to fill out the survey would be moved up from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. With only about a month to go, several groups in Idaho are gearing up for a final push to count the remaining households.


"We were counting on October 31, but the September deadline has lit a fire under us," said Wendy Jaquet, a former Idaho state legislator from Ketchum and the co-chair of Idaho's Complete Count Committee.


But, having been assigned to start door-knocking almost a month earlier than some other states, Idaho is in a favorable position. About a quarter of households that have responded to the census in the state did not fill it out on their own online, by phone or by mail, but instead were assisted by a census enumerator.


Though the additional time for the in-person follow-up work has been crucial, Jaquet is still concerned about counting as many households in historically undercounted communities as possible before next month's deadline, including tribal populations, seniors and Hispanic and Latino households.


That's where groups like Contamos Idaho Census come in. A collaboration among six local organizations, Contamos aims to increase census participation among hard-to-count Latinx communities in Idaho.


Antonio Hernandez works for Conservation Voters for Idaho, and has been spearheading many of Contamos Idaho's initatives. COVID-19 forced the group to reach people all over the state in new ways, he said.


“There’s just so much we’re still learning about how to communicate with folks in a pandemic," Hernandez said. “To have more time would’ve been great to further connect with these folks and elevate their voices," he said.


Some of the most successful follow-up efforts so far, Jaquet said, have been at stations outside of post offices and grocery stores. Those are led by locally-hired Census Bureau employees or non-profit organizations.


In the next month, Contamos hopes to place more ads asking people to fill out the census on Spanish-language radio stations in the Magic Valley and in Clark County. Radio and social media messaging have been very effective during the pandemic, Hernandez said.


The U.S. Census Bureau has not made total response rates by county available, but that information is public for the percentage of households that have filled out the census on their own. Based on those numbers, Camas County has the lowest self-response rate in the state with 30% of the county having filled out the survey. Other counties with less than 40% responding include Valley, Blaine, Clark, Fremont and Custer, although it's likely those numbers rose since the door-knocking stage began. 


Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

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I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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