DRAIN — Census workers waited under a bright blue canopy tent outside the Drain post office Tuesday, greeting every person who walked by and asking them if they had filled out the 2020 census.
Drain resident Rebecca Tuttle had come to get her mail, but stayed at the booth to answer questions about her household size, ages, sex and race. Tuttle said she didn’t fill out the census online because she worried about giving information to advertisers.
She said she thinks the census is especially important for measuring representation in Douglas County.
“We really do need an accurate count,” Tuttle said. “It gives you a good view of who lives here, and it’s not just a bunch of white people.”
The census aims to count every person in the United States, and is guaranteed by the Constitution to happen every 10 years. It provides population-based data used to allocate public funding and to determine congressional and legislative districts, and also determines the number of seats per state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The tent that sat outside the post office Tuesday was a Mobile Questionnaire Assistance site, part of an initiative by the U.S. Census Bureau to reach “Hard-to-Count” areas, like rural Drain, because the response rates are lower than in cities.
As of Aug. 11, Oregon’s self-response rate is 65.8%, meaning around 1.3 million households across the state have already responded online, by phone or by mail. Douglas County, with a 55.6% self-response rate, ranks 19th of 36 counties in Oregon, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Roseburg ranks 104th of Oregon cities, at 60.7%
Douglas County poses a particular challenge to the U.S. Census Bureau because of its large rural areas. Organizations such as We Count Oregon have initiatives attempting to reach rural Oregonians.
“Too often the priorities of Oregonians living in rural areas are not centered in state legislation,” We Count Oregon’s website reads. “The 2020 Census provides an opportunity for more visibility and a louder voice in congress with the possibility of a 6th congressperson for Oregon.”
Other communities considered “Hard-to-Count,” and therefore underrepresented in government and funding, include LGBTQ+ people, people of color and children under five.
There are two more scheduled mobile programs in Douglas County: one at Ray’s Food Place in Drain on Aug. 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and another west of Oakland at the Tyee Landing Store on Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To follow-up on non-responders who don’t stop by a Mobile Questionnaire Assistance site, census takers will knock on doors to get answers. They will be wearing ID badges with a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and may carry a bag with the Census Bureau logo. According to the bureau, all census takers will be wearing masks and will follow public health guidelines.
But, they will have less time than expected.
On Aug. 3, the Trump administration announced that field data collection would end by September 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled due to COVID-19 delays. The announcement said with new hirings and increased speed the census will still be completed, but advocates fear the newer deadline will further marginalize “Hard-to-Count” communities.
On Aug. 11, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with Congress members Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, wrote a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, asking them to restore the later deadline.
“We recognize the challenges the Census has faced in data collection through the COVID pandemic. This collection has faced historic obstacles, and at the same time, our state faces a historic need for resources,” they wrote. “Depriving individuals the opportunity to be counted not only undercuts our democracy, but results in the failure to allocate millions of dollars in resources.”
For now, the mobile sites are doing their part to help people fill out the census in time.
Paige Dickinson plans on filling out the census at home, but asked workers some clarifying questions at the tent outside the post office. She said being counted is especially important in rural communities like Drain.
“I think they’re underrepresented, that’s my concern” Dickinson said. “By having those numbers it gives us an idea of how to better represent those areas.”
Those who have not yet responded to the census are encouraged to visit 2020Census.gov, or call 844-330-2020 for English assistance and 844-468-2020 for Spanish.