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How The Census Is Promoting The Count At A Distance During The Epidemic


It is Census Day in the U.S., but orders to stay at home have dampened what was supposed to be a day of festivities to promote the national headcount. The coronavirus is forcing census advocates to come up with creative ways to reach people and get them counted. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Census Day is not a deadline. You have until August 14, the Census Bureau says, to send in your household's response online, over the phone or by mail. But with the coronavirus raging on...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There will be parties again soon.

LO WANG: The bureau is using social media videos to try to convince more U.S. residents to get counted on their own and at the address where they usually live and sleep as of April 1.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: To help our communities when they come back together, respond to the 2020 Census now.

LO WANG: And the more households that do, the bureau says, the fewer door-knockers they'll have to try to send out during this public health crisis to visit unresponsive homes; in past counts, many of those who are disproportionately from communities of color, including in New York City...


CARDI B: In 2020 - I'm going to tell you something - we can't let this happen again.

LO WANG: ...Where rapper Cardi B recently teamed up with the city's census campaign for a new PSA video.


CARDI B: If you want to stand up to the status quo and defy people in power who want to silence us, start by getting counted in the census.

LO WANG: But hearing that kind of message virtually is not the same as hearing it in person, says Meeta Anand, who helps coordinate census outreach for the New York Immigration Coalition.

MEETA ANAND: It makes a huge difference. I like to say that getting people to fill out the census is a series of conversations.

LO WANG: And Anand says community groups are trying to use texting, phone banking and video conferencing to keep those conversations going. Now, census information identifying individuals cannot be released for 72 years - and about how that information guides trillions of dollars in federal funding.

ANAND: It allows you to stand up as a community and say, we matter, and we are here. But, you know, that can be only so much conveyed in a tweet.

LO WANG: That's why Marco Antonio Lopez, a community organizer with La Union del Pueblo Entero, strapped a bullhorn to the front of his hatchback, hit record on his phone...


MARCO ANTONIO LOPEZ: Buenas tardes. Buenas tardes.

LO WANG: ...And started driving through the unincorporated Colonias on the outskirts of Olton in South Texas, days before the local county ordered all residents to shelter at home.


LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

I was saying, like, just a friendly reminder to make sure that you do your census through Internet or through the telephone. I did have one guy stop me because he thought I was a cheese guy. I told him, no, no, no, I meant censo, not queso. Like, he laughed, and he was like, oh, no, my bad, man. And like, he took off.

LO WANG: Lopez says a few other people stopped to ask about what to do with the Census Bureau letters they got in the mail. But these days, Lopez and other organizers are inside, making calls and trying to deal with the curveball the coronavirus has thrown at the count.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
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