Counting On It

The Covid-19 pandemic threw the Monterey County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee a “curveball,” chairperson Rosemary Soto says. Plans had to be suspended for 94 in-person stations in areas where counting residents is hardest.

Advocates are working hard to get a complete census count; 10 years ago, the county population was undercounted by an estimated 136,000 residents. California as a whole lost out on nearly $35 billion in federal funds due to undercounting.

As of April 12, Monterey County is lagging behind California and the nation in average response rates: 43.7 percent, compared to 48.7 percent for the state and 48 percent nationwide. It’s worse in areas the complete count committee is targeting, including: Salinas, 39 percent; Gonzales, 26 percent; Big Sur, 14.5 percent. Some of the non-pandemic challenges include poor internet access and wariness about giving out personal information online. (It’s safe and private, Soto assures people, and she adds that you can dial 211 and ask questions.)

In the case of Carmel – which has only a 2.4-percent response rate – the main problem is that homes don’t have physical addresses, so residents didn’t receive a 12-digit code via postcard for completing an online form. City Administrator Chip Rerig says they’re telling residents to go online and click “If you do not have a Census ID” to participate. A paper survey is being mailed on April 16 to those who did not respond online in the last month.

The deadline for completing the census has been pushed back twice due to the pandemic. Soto says the Complete Count Committee will regroup when shelter-in-place is over and strategize how to drive response rates up.

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