The U.S. Census Bureau wants you to lie down and be counted.
Where you sleep most of the time will determine where you live for purposes of the 2020 census, which is expected to cost the federal government $15.6 billion and require hiring 500,000 temporary workers.
Households can be “complex” because of divorce, fluid work and school schedules and other factors, a Census Bureau employee said during a late-January open house at Amani Family Services in Fort Wayne.
“The fundamental goal is that we are counting every single person in that home. I don't even say who lives in that home anymore – I say who sleeps in that home,” said Jacqueline Beverly, a community partnership specialist for the bureau.
She illustrated her point as Flor Guayamo of Language Services Network translated in Spanish for some of the people in the room.
“Little Susie is actually spending most of her time at Grandma's house,” Beverly said. “During the week she sleeps there. Who counts Susie?”
She didn't wait for an answer from the audience.
“Susie's sleeping at Grandmother's during the school week because Mom's working two part-time jobs. Susie gets counted at Grandma's house,” Beverly said. “Any questions about that?”
There was one.
“If somebody is living part-time in one house and part-time in another house, say in a different state, how would they be counted then?” somebody asked.
“Susie lives with Mom and Dad – half-and-half kind of arrangement? Then the best thing is for the two of them to make a decision about in which place Susie would be counted,” Beverly replied. “And understand that custody has nothing to do with where somebody gets counted.”
The decennial census, conducted every year ending in a zero, will begin in earnest in mid-March. The Census Bureau and its advocates have for months been stressing the importance of an accurate tally: Congressional representation and the distribution of federal money hinge on where people live.
Answering the census questionnaire “influences everything in your community,” Beverly said at Amani Family Services, which assists immigrants and refugees.
The bureau openly acknowledges its challenges, including:
• People are increasingly reluctant to share personal information.
• English is not the native language spoken in parts of communities growing more culturally diverse.
• Americans are more mobile than ever, making them harder to track down.
In the 2000 and 2010 counts, 74% of American households filled out and mailed in their questionnaires. Households failing to respond – and this year they can do so online or by phone – will receive visits from temporary field workers known as census takers.
Getting word out
The Census Bureau encouraged communities to organize volunteer Complete Count Committees to raise awareness, ease apprehensions and reach out to hard-to-count populations, such as immigrants, refugees, the homeless and children younger than 5 years old.
Several committees formed in northeast Indiana, including in Fort Wayne, New Haven and Leo-Cedarville in Allen County and in Berne, Huntington, Noble County, Angola and LaGrange.
The Fort Wayne panel has been meeting monthly since October. With nearly 40 appointed members, it is double the size of the city's 2010 Complete Count Committee.
The expanded membership “is by design in trying to help our community get the most accurate count,” said Palermo Galindo, the city government's community liaison and co-chair of the 2010 committee.
Galindo said in an interview that Mayor Tom Henry had asked him “to get more involved in reaching out to the historically undercounted communities, to get the word out and invite people who were not invited 10 years before. And we did have a great response to it.”
Members include advocates for seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, Burmese and Congolese along with representatives of government, education, health care, faith and quality-of-life agencies. Since Jan. 20, the panel has supplied information about the census at a half-dozen events, including at the Amani Family Services open house, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and a film program at Embassy Theatre.
The committee's slogan is “Fort Wayne Counts on Me,” or #FWCountsOnMe on social media. The slogan sends the message that, by responding to the census questionnaire, “you're doing a part to build a better future for Fort Wayne,” Galindo said.
More than 20 members of the committee met Friday at Citizens Square. One by one they offered updates, suggestions and opinions on outreach activities and places that are being targeted – churches, child care providers, home visiting agencies and Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana among them.
Bernadette Becker, of Americorps Vista at Neighborlink Fort Wayne, urged members to use an “elevator pitch” with people they are in contact with – the fact that questionnaire responses are confidential and will influence political representation and federal funding for the next decade.
“Not only does their voice count, but their input counts,” Becker said.
James Ouellette of the Allen County Library gave a shorter pitch: “Undercounted, underserved.” Every Hoosier is worth $2,710 a year in federal funds, Ouellette said, a figure explained in detail at census.indiana.edu.
The talking points are being reinforced on social media and with newsletters, posters and fliers, various committee members said.
“I think we've got a pretty good plan in place,” said Ruthie Hall of United Way of Allen County.
By contrast, the Leo-Cedarville Complete Count Committee has only a few members, Town Manager Patrick Proctor said. The Census Bureau estimated the town's population at 3,816 in 2018, compared with 267,633 in nearby Fort Wayne.
Proctor said the town is posting census information at its website and will include census flyers with utility bills and place a message on the electronic sign at the town's park.
“We want to have an accurate count of our town, too, so we are trying to help get the word out,” Proctor said.
From mid-2010 to mid-2018, Leo-Cedarville's population grew by 5.9%, compared with 5.5% for Fort Wayne, according to Census Bureau estimates.
“We've been having some growth,” Proctor said. “We have one subdivision going in right now. We have people building individual new homes here and there. I don't know what the attrition is, but I'm sure we're going up (in population). I just don't know how much.”
Census Bureau media specialist Tim Swarens said undercounted populations in Fort Wayne include Burmese refugees who have resettled here. The 2010 census found more than 3,800 Burmese in Allen County, a number believed to have since increased to at least 6,000, perhaps far more with births and secondary migration.
Amish residents might have been undercounted as well. Amish “are historically a harder-to-reach group, so we do have to put emphasis there,” Swarens said.
Amish are traditionalist Christians who live without modern technologies and conveniences. Those who use horse-and-buggy transportation have a combined estimated population of more than 22,000 in Adams, Allen, LaGrange, Elkhart and Kosciusko counties, according to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
The addition of internet and phone response options show how technology is reshaping the census, although Swarens points out that people have “multiple options” for completing their questionnaires, including the paper form sent by mail.
“Sometimes people hear that you can do it online, and they think that you have to do it online,” Swarens said. “No, you don't have to do it online. It's an option that you can choose.”
That's where the Complete Count Committees, their member organizations and other community groups come in – refuting rumors and falsehoods surrounding the census in addition to calling attention to it.
During a presentation Thursday to the Multicultural Council of Fort Wayne, the Census Bureau's Beverly said such groups are “trusted voices” for hard-to-count populations.
Swarens used the same phrase during a telephone interview.
“There's much more of a willingness to hear and understand and listen to what is being said,” Swarens said, “because it's somebody who knows that community and has credibility in the community.”
The first U.S. census, in 1790, counted more than 3.9 million people. Here is how the population has increased since then in the U.S., Indiana and Allen County, with the 2018 figures estimated:
* Indiana was a U.S. territory from 1800 until statehood in 1816
** Not available; Allen County formed in 1824
Source: U.S. Census Bureau