In this April 1 photo, people walk past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

In this April 1 photo, people walk past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Snohomish County ahead of the curve on the 2020 Census

As the clock ticks on the Census, the response rate in the state is above the national average.

EVERETT — As the deadline looms for the 2020 U.S. Census, Washington and a northwest region of the state that includes Snohomish County are recording higher participation rates than most of the nation.

Washington’s response rate through Tuesday was estimated at 98.7%; the national rate was 96.2%.

The count is scheduled to end Sept. 30, although a lawsuit could extend that time frame.

“Washington is one of the top areas in the country,” said Donald Bendz, a U.S. Census spokesman.

Only Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia had higher rates through Tuesday.

At 71.9%, Washington households have been much more likely to “self-respond” via the Internet, by a toll free call or through the mail than most states. Only Minnesota has a higher rate. The national average for self-response, rather than responding to Census workers in the field, is 66.2%.

In Snohomish County, 75.3% of households have self-responded, including 67% via the internet. Of Washington’s 39 counties, only King and Clark counties have had higher rates of self-submitting Census forms than Snohomish.

In Washington, 26.9% of responses were gathered by census takers compared to the national average of 30%.

The U.S. Census is an ambitious undertaking. There are 248 area Census Bureau offices nationwide to tally around 330 million people in more than 140 million housing units. Everett is home to one of the Census Bureau offices, which oversees a territory that stretches from Snohomish County to the Canadian border. In that area, 97% of households have submitted a Census response.

The Constitution requires a census to determine the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives per state. Data also is used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.

The reality is many people in the county don’t have internet access. From 2014 to 2018, 8.5% of county households had either no home internet subscription or dial-up only, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. With libraries and other public spaces closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access has been even more difficult to find for some families.

Response rates tend to be greatest in and around large cities. That’s in part due to the number of social and faith-based groups, nonprofits and government agencies making a point to promote participation.

In Brier, Edmonds, Mill Creek, Mukilteo and Woodway, more than 80% of households have self-responded by internet, mail-in questionnaire or a toll free call. By contrast, Darrington, Gold Bar and Index were well under 60% for self-responses.

Bendz said the COVID-19 pandemic might have helped this year’s response early on. Many people were working from home and were looking for things to do.

In August, the Census Bureau began going door to door in Snohomish County and beyond.

That same month, the Census Bureau announced it would stop collecting responses on Sept. 30, a month earlier than expected, in order to finish collecting and analyzing data that must be reported to Congress by the legally required deadline of Dec. 31.

That decision has ended up in court with some advocates arguing the Census Bureau needs more time to track down data, given the pandemic and the need to reach those, including the poor, who might be hardest to track down. In some states, such Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Montana, the response rate was less than 90% earlier this week.

Households can still respond by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire they received, by responding online at 2020census.gov, or by phone at 844-330-2020. Households can also respond online or by phone in one of 13 languages and find assistance in many more.

Eric Stevick: stevick@heraldnet.com.

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