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Florida Faces Census Challenges Ahead of September Deadline

Census Taker walking toward door
U.S. Census
U.S. Census Bureau

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau is trying to count every individual living in the United States: a difficult task as millions of lives have been upended. 

Adding to worries of an incomplete count, the deadline to respond to the 2020 census is fast approaching. All counting efforts end on Sept. 30. 

Florida Matters Host Bradley George spoke with D'Vera Cohn, a writer and editor at the Pew Research Center who specializes demographics, and Mike Schneider, an Orlando-based reporter with the Associated Press who is covering the 2020 census. 

They discussed the nuts and bolts of the census and what information it asks for, how the pandemic has changed the counting process and what happens if there's an undercount. 

Here are some highlights of the conversation: 

Bradley George: The data that comes out of it (the census) is released over several years because it's just a massive set of data. It's population but it's all sorts of subsets of different demographics.

D'Vera Cohn: The questions are pretty basic and I think people think there's a whole lot more on there. They ask you how many people are living in your household. They ask, for everyone who (lives there), what your gender is, your age, are you Hispanic or not, your race, what relationship everyone else has in the household to the person who fills out the form. And as I mentioned, is this home owned or rented? 

BG: What have we heard from census takers in terms of how they're feeling about the safety of what they're doing? Do they have PPE (personal protective equipment)? Can they stay social distant and talk to people? What do we know about that?

Mike Schneider: I think that's a real concern. I talked to census workers who were all ready to go but changed their minds and decided not to become a census taker because of the pandemic. I talked to a couple of census takersthis week who are out in the field. A lot of them aren't happy with the PPE. This one lady I talked to in the San Francisco area, she says her mask is made by the company that makes Hanes undewear. And she says the mask is basically what you'd expect if a mask was made out of Hanes underwear. And they've been give some hand santizer that was made by a distillery in Oklahoma and smells of bourbon.

One of the things about being a census taker is it's almost like a sales job. You have to persuade people to want to give this information and part of that is...making the person who you're asking questions of comfortable. And they say it's very difficult to do that when you have a mask on and are forced to be at least six feet apart.

Hi there! I’m Dinorah Prevost and I’m the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show. That basically means that I plan, record and edit the interviews we feature on the show.
Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.