New Mexico goes all out for the census

Part of the planning for the 2020 US census is identifying geographic locations that are hard to count. On anational map that identifies those areas by color, New Mexico is lit up like a Christmas tree.

The map was shown recently at the state Data Users Conference, an annual gathering of professionals who use population data in their work. The presenter was Robert Rhatigan, New Mexico State Demographer.

“If you look at the United States and which demographic groups tends to get undercounted, it’s people of color; people who live in remote areas; people who don’t live in houses with standard addressing and rely on Post Office boxes; people who live in poverty; children zero to four; and renters,” Rhatigan said in a news release. “If you look at those groups nationwide, we have a higher concentration of each of them living here in New Mexico.”

The state is making an all-out effort to get a complete population count.

In 2017, local governments and state agencies cooperatively conducted an update of home addresses, which resulted in 64,000 updated addresses. This year, with about $3.5 million in state funding, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has created a Complete Count Commission, with representation from her administration, the legislature, tribes, municipalities and community organizations. The administration has announced a plan to ask for $8 million more.

The program is attempting to partner with “trusted local voices” including local governments and nonprofits, to persuade New Mexicans that every everyone should respond to the census. Coupled with that message is the attempt to assure nervous New Mexicans that their personal data will be confidential for decades. Census Bureau staff take an oath that they will preserve that confidentiality for their life.

The questionnaire is limited to the “short form,” which asks only a few questions. Speakers at the conference said the response is much better for the simpler form than for the longer form that used to be sent to some respondents. The census questions must be answered for each person who is living in your home on April 1. The infamous “citizenship question,” which would have asked respondents to state whether each individual was or was not a US citizen, is not on the form. That question does appear on other Census Bureau survey questionnaires that rely on population samples rather than the entire population.

Every household should receive a copy of the census form. Respondents can provide their answers online, by telephone, or by filling out the paper copy and mailing it. Online and telephone responses can be made in 12 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese.

If you don’t respond, a census worker will come to your door. New Mexico is expecting to need 4000 census workers. Our “hard to count” status means there will be more census workers knocking on doors than in most states. Not surprisingly, that followup is regarded as one of the most expensive parts of the census process.

New Mexico is not expected to gain anything as dramatic as a new seat in Congress. The stakes involve money, several billion dollars spread across many federal programs over the next 10 years based upon the official census count. A study from George Washington University calculated that each New Mexican not counted equates to a loss of approximately $3,745 in funding per year.

With all that federal money at stake, New Mexico may be overcoming its usual inertia, getting its act together and coordinating across agency and jurisdictional boundaries.

Lack of coordination among government agencies has been characteristic of New Mexico government for as long as I’ve been around. If this commission and its many hoped-for partners can achieve the result of a glorious successful census count, let’s hope they all remember how they did it so they can apply the strategy elsewhere.


Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2019


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