NCL Blog

How will the coronavirus affect the Census?

How will the coronavirus affect the Census?

Concerns about COVID-19 (the illness caused by the new coronavirus) are increasing as the number of cases grows across the United States, and many people are wondering whether this public health crisis will have an effect on the Census count.

Fortunately, the 2020 Census is set up in a way that allows everyone to participate without fear of exposure to the virus. When the invitation to participate comes in the mail, it will include instructions for responding online, by phone, and by mail. As the Census Bureau says,

It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker.

You will be able to respond either online or by phone in English and 12 other languages. If you respond right away, no Census taker will visit you.

The Census Bureau’s most recent statement, released on March 11, outlines the plan for in-person followup:

Census takers plan to conduct the Nonresponse Followup operation in a handful of communities beginning as early as April 9, and across the country on May 13. Households can still respond on their own during this phase (online and phone response is available through July 31).

The Census Bureau will closely follow guidance from public health authorities when conducting this operation, as we do when conducting all field operations. 

If we need to delay or discontinue nonresponse follow-up visits in a particular community, we will adapt our operation to ensure we get a complete and accurate count. 

The safest and easiest strategy, then, is to respond online or by phone as soon as you receive the invitation in the mail.

Train Your Adult Learners as Census Ambassadors

Train Your Adult Learners as Census Ambassadors

A full and accurate decennial Census count depends on good communication that encourages everyone to participate. Participation is critical because an undercount would have a big impact on adult education programs and on adult learners’ communities. As trusted community members, adult learners can be extremely effective messengers who provide information, promote Census completion, and clarify points of confusion or misinformation.

Participate in a Census Ambassador Train-the-Trainer Program

You can multiply the effects of your own messaging about the Census by providing Census Ambassador training for your adult learners. This trainer training program will show you how! The program includes a sequence of two webinars and a moderated community of practice.

In the first webinar, March 11, 2:00-3:00 eastern time, you will receive step-by-step instructions and all the materials you need to lead your learners and staff through a Census Ambassador training. You’ll be able to choose between two ways of carrying out the training: teacher-led in the classroom, and program-wide, with a staff person leading the training for all interested staff and learners.

As a participant in the first webinar, you will also be enrolled in a facilitated online community of practice. The CoP will allow you to pose questions to the trainer and share challenges, solutions, and effective practices with your colleagues.

The second webinar, April 15, 2:00-3:00 eastern time, will summarize lessons learned and provide a platform for you to ask questions and share strategies and successes.

Please plan on attending both webinars. There is no cost for this training, but you must register! If you can’t make one or both of the webinars, please register anyway, and we will send you a link to the recording of the webinar, as well as a copy of the slides. 

March 11 at 2:00 eastern — register here
April 15 at 2:00 eastern — register here

Encourage Your Learners to Become Census Ambassadors

As adult educators, we have a chance to share important information with our learners, so they can decide how to participate in this pivotal moment.  Census Ambassadors are able to speak knowledgeably about the Census and share why it matters. They are able to do the following:

  • Understand and explain the basics of the U.S. Census — what it is, why we do it, and how it affects our communities
  • Answer basic questions about the census questionnaire, such as Do I have to fill it out? Do I have to answer all the questions? Does it include questions about citizenship or immigration status? 
  • Develop their leadership and speaking and listening skills by following through on the task of recruiting at least 10 people to take the Pledge to be Counted.
  • Earn debit card prizes if they recruit at least 50 people to take the Pledge to be Counted.
  • Receive a certificate acknowledging their role as a Census Ambassador
  • Add this volunteer work and associated skills to their resume

Take the Pledge To Be Counted!

Individual teachers, tutors, and staff, take the Pledge To Be Counted.

Census Ambassadors, take the Pledge To Be Counted.

Adult learners and others, take the Pledge To Be Counted.

How do I know that an ad or mailing is really from the Census Bureau?

How do I know that an ad or mailing is really from the Census Bureau?

You pick up your mail and see an envelope or postcard that says “Census” on it. Or you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and see an ad that says “Census.” How can you tell that it’s really about the 2020 Census?

Organizations that are not part of the Census Bureau might use the word “Census” on ads and mailings to try to get your attention or trick you. Don’t fall for it! Here are some tips from the Census Bureau:

If you receive a survey or a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau, the envelope contains information that will help you verify its legitimacy. For example:
“U.S. Census Bureau” in the return address, or “U.S. Department of Commerce,” which is the Census Bureau’s parent agency.
Jeffersonville, IN in the return address. The Census Bureau has a mail processing center located there.

Households will receive an invitation in the mail to complete the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. The enclosed envelope to mail back a completed paper questionnaire will be addressed to Jeffersonville, IN, or Phoenix, AZ.

The Census Bureau specifically asks organizations and businesses not to use words or images that might confuse people. Here is the Bureau’s request letter.

An example: You may have heard that Facebook decided yesterday to remove some presidential campaign ads. The ads were considered misleading because they used the word “Census.” Here are some news reports on what happened:

New York Times article
Reuters article
Associated Press article
Bloomberg News article

How does the Census affect children’s education?

How does the Census affect children’s education?

By Cynthia Macleay Campbell, Ed.D.
Gold Apple Services

Why should over 1.5 million adult learners care about the census? Because their children’s education depends on it!

Teachers of adult English language learners in local programs often ask new students why they want to take English classes. Most people give one of two answers: to advance in their jobs or to help their children with their education. As they work hard to attain more education for themselves, adult learners want to see their children get the best education possible in their local schools.

Adult learners probably know that along with regular classes, schools provide

  • Special education
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction
  • After school programs
  • School breakfasts and school lunches

However, adult learners may not truly understand that along with local funding from property taxes, local schools receive money from the federal government, including

  • Support for education in rural communities.
  • Funding for schools in high poverty areas: this is key, as according to the Census Bureau 29 percent of adult learners live below the poverty line, which means their children do as well.
  • Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers: schools that serve certain struggling rural and urban areas. Along with daily classes, these schools also provide extra academic support and enrichment activities for students and educational programs for parents.
  • Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) who often provide tutoring in reading and other support to school children.

What do all these federal funding streams have in common? The amount that each school receives is determined by the Census count in the community. Yet adults with low educational attainment, minorities, and non-native speakers of English are often undercounted in the Census, as are children under five. And this is a problem!

Imagine adult learners and their children’s experience with their local schools if the Census has an undercount of their community’s children. Some potential scenarios:

  • Not enough teachers. Adult learners’ children could face more crowded classrooms and receive less attention and help from their teachers. ESOL students may not have enough ESOL teachers. Students with learning differences will have fewer special education teachers. Without enough teachers, children of adult learners likely will fall behind and stay behind.
  • Fewer Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers that provide the “wrap around” services that help both children and parents advance in their education and economic opportunities.
  • Not enough funding for school lunches and breakfasts, so that schools would have to offer either less food or lower quality food.

However, adult learners are not just concerned about school-age children. They also need support for preschool children, such as childcare, preschool, and Head Start, especially as many are single parents. Again, the federal funding for these programs is determined by the Census count in their communities. A Census undercount will mean fewer choices for affordable or free care or education for very young children.

Adult learners come to adult literacy and English language programs to build better lives for themselves and their families. As the Census is conducted only once every 10 years, all children, including young children and infants, need to be counted now. This way, when a newborn is ready to enter Head Start in three years or elementary school in five years, the local schools can be better prepared to meet the child’s need. In short, adult learners participating in the Census will help their children’s schools be as well-equipped as possible to educate their children.  

So, one reason why adult learners should complete the Census is that their children are counting on an accurate count for their education!

For further reading:

Poverty rates by education level:

Overview of why an accurate Census count matters for schools:

Share with adult learners:        

Flyers for parents of school-aged children in multiple languages:

Fact sheets, in English and Spanish, about counting young children:

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