After trailing most states in Census response rates, Maine has jumped toward the front of the pack following the federal government’s recent surge in targeting nonresponsive households, but 12 percent of households remain uncounted with a month to go in the count.
The 2020 U.S. Census was the first conducted mostly online, a challenge for rural states like Maine where broadband access is limited in some areas. The coronavirus pandemic also delayed the wide deployment of census workers, though Maine was among the first states to see Census Bureau workers return to the field in mid-July.
An accurate decennial Census count matters because the data is used to apportion legislative districts and allocate funding for a range of federal programs, such as Medicaid and Head Start. In 2010, Maine’s total was estimated to be an undercount of nearly 8,500 people, resulting in millions of dollars of lost federal funding each year over the past decade.
Maine continues to rank near the bottom of states when it comes to self-responses, with only 56.8 percent of households in the state responding on their own, according to the most recent federal data.
But another 30.8 percent of households were accounted for via the Census Bureau’s non-response follow up program over the past six weeks. It involves workers from the agency contacting households via phone or visiting in-person. Maine was one of six states where that program began in mid-July.
Overall, 87.6 percent of Maine households have now answered the survey, putting the state sixth in overall responses, according to federal data. The other states where the agency implemented early non-response follow up activities also rank highly.
The Census Bureau has until Sept. 30 to complete the household survey. The Trump administration initially indicated it might extend the deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic, which interfered with many early Census activities, but walked that back in early August.
The decision alarmed many lawmakers and advocates who expressed concern that the shortened time period would lead to an inaccurate count. People who have yet to fill out the Census survey can do so on the agency’s website.