LA GRAND — Recruitment of 2020 Census takers is underway in La Grande. But neither Union County nor the city of La Grande are doing much about obtaining an accurate count of the population even with chunks of federal funding at stake.
Census 2020 officials have visited with Union County commissioners and the La Grande City Council to encourage local involvement with recruiting census takers and informing residents about the importance of the census. La Grande’s Cook Memorial Library, which received a $2,000 grant from the American Library Association to bolster library services to help achieve a complete count in the 2020 Census, hosted a job fair Tuesday to inform residents about the upcoming count of the local population and to find people interested in helping with that count.
Some communities in Oregon have formed county-wide complete count committees to help the United States Census Bureau at the local level. Union County, however, has no county-wide complete count committee.
Union County administrative officer Shelley Burgess said the county chose to direct the efforts to the cities because the county believed it would be more advantageous to work at the city level. La Grande City Manager Robert Strope said the city is not making any direct efforts for helping with the census, however conducting it is important for city funding.
"We are not obligated to work on conducting the census," Strope said. "We also aren't staffed and do not have the resources at this time to help do that."
By April 1, 2020, everyone across the country will have received an invitation to take part in Census 2020. Census takers then will start visiting people who have not responded to the invitation, either by phone, mail or online. According to the Census Bureau, the data from the census provides the basis to distribute more the $675 billion in federal funds each year to support housing, transportation and other vital programs in state, counties and communities.
Census data also helps reapportion congressional seats. The 2020 Census could mean Oregon gains a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Neighboring Umatilla County started a complete count committee in 2018 to get the jump on outreach and obtaining an accurate count. The committee consists of local government officials, public employees, members of nonprofits and more. Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock is one of six commissioners nationwide to serve on the National Association of Counties Census 2020 Working Group. He said collecting population data relies on census takers and informed citizens, and everyone the county finds is worth $4,000 in program funding.
Murdock said the trend statewide is 70% of people self-report, but 30% of Oregonians are considered hard to count.
"The people who are the hard to count," he said, "are often those who use or need the most services that are funded through census data measurements."
Murdock said Umatilla County's complete count committee has helped set up computers at the Pendleton Public Library and with the recruiting of local residents to be census takers. Umatilla County has a large Hispanic population and is seeking Spanish-speaking census takers to help with the language barrier and to make those filling out the census more comfortable.
"We want the people who go door-to-door to be local and look like those whose information they are taking," Murdock said.
Murdock said the county wants everyone to be involved and understand the importance of the census and having the information come from the local level is the most effective.
"If the federal government says the census is important, we don't know how seriously people will take it," Murdock said. "At the state level we know it will be a little better. If the county is encouraging participation, even better. But when it is the local communities saying it, people just respond better the closer the information comes from home."