Census 2020: University, city working against COVID-19 to get Bloomington college students counted, local census numbers currently lagging behind rest of state

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 4.09.47 AM
Annotated screen shot from Our World in Data

[Note: The census can be completed online by visiting this link to the US Census. https://my2020census.gov/]

About six weeks ago, on Feb. 20, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave his annual “state of the city” address. The mayor’s basic theme was “everyone counts”—a riff on the decennial census that’s taking place this year.

Before the speech, in the lobby of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, where Hamilton delivered his remarks, Beverly Calender-Anderson was passing out literature about the census.  She was encouraging people to make sure they get themselves counted. Calender-Anderson is director of Bloomington’s community and family resources department.

As the proceedings were called to order at the Buskirk-Chumley, city council president Steve Volan took some time at the podium to add a piece of “flair” to his lapel—a button promoting participation in the census.

In his brief remarks on the census, Volan focused on the importance of getting students counted correctly: “Students are to be counted, as the census says, where they ‘usually reside’. So it’s important that everyone who is in Bloomington be counted here.”

At the time, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States was 15. Now six weeks later, the confirmed case count across the country is more than 200,000. Indiana’s confirmed cases are doubling about every four days, and this week passed 3,000.

For Hamilton, Calender-Anderson, and Volan, the census has, of course, faded as a priority, replaced by COVID-19. Hamilton has established a couple of different working groups to address the local impact of the pandemic. Calender-Anderson is heading up the working group on social services.

The work of the economic sustainability and recovery group is being supported by a sequence of city council actions that will appropriate food and beverage tax proceeds to provide some economic bridge-gap relief for local businesses.

The full focus on COVID-19 meant that this past Wednesday, at the Bloomington city council meeting, the census didn’t get a mention—even though the date was April 1, which is Census Day. The census questionnaire wants to know where you were living on April 1.

About the omission, Volan told The Square Beacon after the April 1 city council’s Zoom conference adjourned, “Literally today is Census Day! I should have mentioned it during the meeting.”

Volan is concerned about the accuracy of the count for Bloomington, because Indiana University closed its residence halls, which means the students who lived there are living elsewhere for the rest of the semester.

Every 10 years it’s a challenge to get college students to complete the census correctly, which means recording their residence as the place where they’re attending school. This year, the census invitations were sent out from March 12 to March 20, right around the time when students were being informed that classes would be conducted remotely for the rest of the semester and that the dorms would be closed.

Volan said, “I have this tremendous dread that next year when the numbers come out, we will not be bigger, even though the community is obviously bigger—you can see it in the number of housing starts, rental permits. It’s the fluke of the virus coming down on the very week that census forms are going out.”

Volan’s dread is based in part on the impact that lower numbers would have, on everything from the determination of voting districts to Bloomington’s share of $675 billion in federal funds. “The repercussions are enormous. Bloomington has never not grown,” Volan said.

What’s the potential impact on federal funding, if Bloomington college students aren’t all counted? It’s something that Valerie Peña, assistant vice president for government relations and economic engagement at Indiana University, has compiled into a table for all of  Indiana University’s campuses. At $2,710 per person, the 41,000 IU Bloomington students in Peña’s table translate into $112 million a year or more than $1 billion for a decade.

Missing 1 percent of students in the census count would translate into a loss for Bloomington of more than $1 million a year in federal funds.

The worry that college students might not get counted in their campus communities this year, because they were living at their parents’ house on April 1 instead of in a dormitory, is not unique to Bloomington. When The Square Beacon reached the US Census, a public information officer said about that specific issue, “Everyone is panicked everywhere!”

The official guidance from the US Census Bureau about how college students are supposed to be counted hasn’t changed, even if they’ve returned to their parents’ house to live out the rest of the semester: “Per the Census Bureau’s residence criteria, in most cases students living away from home at school should be counted at school, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But that guidance doesn’t ensure that students, and their parents, will complete the census correctly.

For IU Bloomington students who lived in residence halls this year, the accurate counting problem is solved—because IU switched this year to a “group-quarters” approach to reporting residence hall populations, Peña told The Square Beacon. That basically means that the university completes the census on behalf of the student residents of the dorms.

Even if a student, or their parents, were to complete the census separately from the group-quarters report, and did so inaccurately, it would not negate the university’s report. The US Census told The Square Beacon that in the “back-end” process for reconciling and de-duplicating data, the group-quarters report supersedes other records for the same person.

What about students who don’t live in residence halls? What happens if there’s a conflict between the way such students complete the census, indicating a Bloomington residence, and the way their parents complete it?

That’s a possibility, because parents would naturally include their college student children in the list of people who were living in the household on April 1. And they might not attend to the followup question that is meant to sort such students back into the pile that live in Bloomington:

11. Does this person usually live or stay somewhere else?
Mark all that apply: no; yes, for college; yes, for a military assignment; yes, for a job or business; yes, in a nursing home; yes, with a parent or other relative; yes, at a seasonal or second residence; yes, in a jail or prison; yes, for another reason.

Why we ask this question: This question helps ensure that the Census Bureau is counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place.

Even if the parents mis-report that question, the student’s answer would supersede the parents’ response, the US Census told The Square Beacon.

So it’s crucial that students who didn’t live in residence halls complete the census correctly, saying that they live in Bloomington. If they and their parents both botch the answer, it’s not clear how the  US Census would be able to assign them to Bloomington’s count.

Peña has a team of about 30 people who are working to ensure that doesn’t happen. Underpinning the effort at outreach is a new website launched earlier this week.  From now through May 1, a communications blitz is planned, including student government groups, Greek houses, off-campus apartment owners, and faculty who are teaching this semester.

Peña told The Square Beacon that a slide on the census has been prepared so that IU instructor can slot it into Canvas, which is the remote instructional platform the university is using to finish out the the semester.

In the running tally that US Census is keeping for the initial self-response rates, Monroe County is lagging behind other counties in Indiana as of April 1. The 40.6 percent response rate so far ranks 78th out of 92 counties. The top county for Indiana so far is Dubois County with 58.1 percent of people responding so far.

Dubois County ranks 6th nationwide among the more than 3,000 counties in the county. The top county at this point is Fairfax County in Virginia with 59.3 percent responding.

All but 0.3 points of the 40.6 percent of Monroe County’s responses came over the internet.

According to Peña, the group-quarters report from IU will be submitted to US Census by around April 10. That could bump Monroe County’s numbers for responses.

Calender-Andersen told The Square Beacon the city will still be working to promote the completion of the census even if many of the planned public events had to be cancelled.

She said, “I keep asking everywhere I go, ‘Have you done your census, yet?'” Not everyone says yes, she told The Square Beacon, but one woman who answered no, did say she had a reminder note on her refrigerator.

Here’s some visuals built from the US Census response tracking website:

Response Map Time Lapse from March 19 to April 1: By US County


Table 1: By US County

Top 10 COUNTIES (in United States) US Census Response Rate through April 1, 2020
Fairfax County Virginia 59.3
Calumet County Wisconsin 58.8
Washington County Wisconsin 58.3
Livingston County Michigan 58.2
Carver County Minnesota 58.2
Dubois County Indiana 58.1
Falls Church County Virginia 58.1
Ozaukee County Wisconsin 57.8
Adams County Illinois 57.6
Waukesha County Wisconsin 57.6

Response Map Time Lapse from March 19 to April 1: Indiana by CountyINCENSUS

Table 2: by Indiana County

COUNTY (Indiana only) US Census Response Rate through April 1, 2020
Dubois County Indiana 58.1
Pike County Indiana 54.3
Daviess County Indiana 53.5
Porter County Indiana 51.8
Adams County Indiana 51.7
Warrick County Indiana 51.2
LaGrange County Indiana 51
Hamilton County Indiana 50.9
Hendricks County Indiana 50.6
Wells County Indiana 50
Allen County Indiana 49.7
Whitley County Iowa 49.5
Fountain County Indiana 49.5
Boone County Indiana 49.4
Hancock County Indiana 49
Johnson County Indiana 48.8
Martin County Indiana 48.7
Warren County Indiana 48.5
Jasper County Indiana 48.5
Spencer County Indiana 48.3
Fayette County Indiana 48.2
Shelby County Indiana 47.7
DeKalb County Indiana 47.6
Floyd County Indiana 46.9
Lake County Indiana 46.8
Jay County Indiana 46.8
Harrison County Indiana 46.2
Noble County Indiana 45.9
Miami County Indiana 45.8
Perry County Indiana 45.7
Washington County Indiana 45.6
Wabash County Indiana 45.6
Huntington County Indiana 45.6
Dearborn County Indiana 45.4
Cass County Indiana 45.4
Tipton County Indiana 45.3
Ohio County Indiana 45.3
Gibson County Indiana 45.2
Rush County Indiana 45
Morgan County Indiana 45
Elkhart County Indiana 45
Vermillion County Indiana 44.7
LaPorte County Indiana 44.7
Vanderburgh County Indiana 44.6
Decatur County Indiana 44.5
Franklin County Indiana 44.4
Tippecanoe County Indiana 44.3
Jackson County Indiana 44.3
Clay County Indiana 44.3
Clark County Indiana 44.3
Posey County Indiana 44.2
Henry County Indiana 44.2
Carroll County Indiana 44.2
St. Joseph County Indiana 43.9
Howard County Indiana 43.8
Bartholomew County Indiana 43.6
Jefferson County Indiana 43.3
Marshall County Indiana 43.2
Delaware County Indiana 43.2
Blackford County Indiana 42.9
Montgomery County Indiana 42.7
Lawrence County Indiana 42.7
Newton County Indiana 42.3
Randolph County Indiana 42.2
Orange County Indiana 42.2
Knox County Indiana 42.2
Madison County Indiana 42.1
Jennings County Indiana 42
Clinton County Indiana 42
Marion County Indiana 41.9
Ripley County Indiana 41.7
Wayne County Indiana 41.5
Putnam County Indiana 41.3
Owen County Indiana 41.3
Benton County Indiana 41.2
Fulton County Indiana 41
Sullivan County Indiana 40.9
Monroe County Indiana 40.6
Scott County Indiana 40.5
Parke County Indiana 40.5
Grant County Indiana 40.2
Vigo County Indiana 39.9
Greene County Indiana 39.9
Crawford County Indiana 38.9
Kosciusko County Indiana 38.7
Union County Indiana 38.4
Brown County Indiana 38.3
Steuben County Indiana 36.4
Starke County Indiana 36.3
Pulaski County Indiana 36.2
White County Indiana 34.8
Switzerland County Indiana 34.5