© 2021 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News

Amid Uncertainty Over 2020 Census Deadline, Miami’s Response Rate Remains Low

Sherrilyn Cabrera
A letter from the Census Bureau reminding residents to complete the 2020 Census.

A U.S. district judge ordered Census counting to continue until October 31. Miami’s response rate continues to be one of the lowest in Florida.

A federal judge in California ruled last week that the 2020 Census deadline would be extended for another month, finalizing counts on October 31. But the next day, the Trump administration announced it would shorten the deadline to October 5.

Now, the deadline has been extended once again to October 31, after the same judge issued a new order late Thursday to clarify her previous decision.

Many South Florida organizations and community leaders say they were relieved when the news broke of the extra few weeks they would have to conduct more outreach. But with the back-and-forth deadline — and less than a month to wrap up the count — Miami’s response rate remains one of the lowest in Florida.

“At the Census Bureau it is our responsibility to ensure that all households are accounted for,” said Marilyn Stephens, the Assistant Regional Census Manager for the Bureau. “That's a big job in a place like Miami that is so densely populated and really has so much diversity in it.”

Over half of Miami-Dade County’s population was born outside the United States, according to data from the Census Bureau.

The county’s diversity is one of the reasons why it can be difficult for Census workers to achieve a complete count — and why local organizations are driven to raise awareness in undercounted communities.

“They’re concerned about immigration status, concerned about a number of other things,” said Stephens. “‘Will someone use my information against me?’ And the answer is, 'no.'”

As of September 30, Miami-Dade County had a 62.1 percent self-response rate. Some cities within Miami-Dade had much lower rates. The City of Miami had a 53.4 percent self-response rate, significantly lower than the city’s 2010 final self-response rate of 62.1 percent.

The state of Florida had a 63.4 percent self-response rate, slightly above its 2010 final self-response rate of 63.0 percent.

This year's Census count will determine how $675 billion in federal funds will be distributed in cities and communities across the United States. If significant populations remain undercounted, it could affect how much support services like education and healthcare get, as well as how many congressional seats should remain in each district.

"Florida still remembers getting two additional congressional seats last Census, so the state leaders fully understand the importance of the 2020 Census," said Stephens.

Census 2020 efforts were significantly impacted because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading many organizations across the state to shift their outreach, halting much of their face-to-face interaction with communities.

On top of COVID-19 restrictions, the Census Bureau — as well as the hundreds of organizations and community leaders across the state of Florida contributing to Census work — was met with sudden changes to the Census deadline.

In mid July, the Trump administration shortened the deadline from October 31 to September 30.

“Without any warning to any of the folks like us who were working on the Census, the Census Bureau removed what we call the COVID calendar,” said Susan Racher, spokesperson for the coalition Florida Counts.

Stephens, who is in charge of Census operations in the southern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, said she has worked with city of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and this week met with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Remember, we are the nation’s premier statisticians, we’re the data collectors and that’s what we do,” said Stephens. “We know the hours it takes to get the job done and that’s what we’re doing now. We’re moving staff around as needed in the areas where we have the higher workload and we know, by the end, we will be at 100 percent.”