Time to be counted
Rural areas often are undercounted, at least in the initial stages of the census. Clay Lambert / Review

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that pockets of the Coastside are slower to fill out the 2020 form when compared with the rest of the county.

There are a variety of reasons why rural areas historically have a lower response rate, including mistrust of government in some areas and lack of reliable internet or phone service. Now, with the delays to the census operations because of the coronavirus pandemic, the hand-delivery of announcements to households in communities not serviced by mail carriers has been delayed.

As of Thursday, San Mateo County had the highest response rate in the state, with just over 68 percent having already responded to the census. However, coastal communities such as Pescadero, La Honda, El Granada and Montara are falling behind with a current response rate of between 25 and 37 percent.

U.S. Census Bureau Program Coordinator Jeff Enos said that just before the stay-at-home orders were issued census workers in the state were preparing to drop off packets to households in areas that do not have mailboxes or traditional addresses. Since then census field operations have been suspended. Many households have yet to receive any information in the mail about the census. Enos said he expects operations to resume in early June.

Housing Assistance Council Director of Research and Information Lance George said delaying announcements to households that are hard to reach by U.S. mail might result in “artificially” low response rates.

With the public safety concerns raised by the COVID-19 virus, the county and many social service agencies and nonprofits have also had to change their census outreach plans. San Mateo County has partnered with Puente de la Costa Sur, Coastside Farmers Market, Coastside Hope and the city of Half Moon Bay to provide banners to hang at food distribution centers and census flyers to distribute to people, according to Community Outreach Specialist Melissa Vergara.

While events focused on outreach were canceled, Vergara said the county’s found other ways to spread the message on the importance of filling out the census.

“We’ve created commercials that will be played in the lowest response rate areas in the county,” she said. “We also just finished sending out a countywide mailer to target specific communities.”

People can still fill out the census even if they have not received information in the mail. This year the census can be completed online, in addition to on the phone or by mailing in the questionnaire.

The deadline to respond was pushed from the summer to the fall. Enos said households in the Midcoast and South Coast should all receive information delivered to their doors in June. Census workers will drop off the mailer by leaving it at the front door. In the meantime, people can still respond online or by phone.

Accurately counting rural communities is important to make sure people are represented in their governments and resources are distributed to meet the needs.

“It’s a huge deal,” Enos said. “City planners and local business leaders use this data to make informed decisions.”

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