West Marin’s census response still below expectations

07/08/2020

The rate of response to the 2020 census has been low in West Marin—but there’s still time. The survey opened in March, and residents have through October to respond, a nationwide deadline that was pushed back several months after outreach efforts stopped cold due to the pandemic. The initial invitation, meant to be delivered to the door of all post office box holders, never made it to many on Marin’s coast. “We really spent time pivoting all of our outreach strategies,” said Stephanie McNally, a senior manager with the Canal Alliance who is guiding West Marin groups in phone banking, spreading the word at food banks, handing out informative bookmarks through the library system and more. A large banner will go up in Point Reyes Station this month, orchestrated by West Marin Community Services. There are five census tracts on the coast, and all of them currently have a lower response rate than the county as a whole, which as of Monday was 72 percent. The tract that covers Bolinas and a second that includes Point Reyes Station, Nicasio, Marshall, Tomales and Dillion Beach have the lowest rates in West Marin, at around 44 percent. That’s 15 percent lower than the final response rate in Bolinas from 2010, and nearly 9 percent lower than the response rate on the northern part of the coast—a comparison that is being used to establish a minimum target. The response rate has been a bit higher in Olema and Inverness, at 51 percent, though rates are historically higher there; it’s currently still 17 percent below 2010 rates. The towns in the valley, also at 51 percent now, are the closest to 2010 levels, just 2 percent below. Ms. McNally said she hopes rates will improve, especially since West Marin has been grossly undercounted historically. There’s a lot at stake: Based on census data, Marin receives federal funding for everything from hospitals to affordable housing. For each person who goes uncounted, the alliance estimates the county loses about $1,000 in funding per year over the 10-year census period. The count also helps determine the response and recovery process to the pandemic. “The more we know about race and ethnicity and age ranges—these are some of the things that basically the census collects—that’s all information that’s going to help plan to make sure once we have a vaccine, we have enough doses available, where they should go, even now testing, having hospitals prepared…,” Ms. McNally said. This is the first year where it is possible to fill out the census online. Nevertheless, census takers will make in-person visits in August to anyone who has not responded. Ms. McNally acknowledged that many people don’t want a knock on the door during a pandemic, and encouraged residents to take action in July. Census takers cannot ask about immigration status, and the question involving citizenship was removed from the 2020 census. To fill out the 2020 census, visit 2020census.gov.