Editor’s note: Agri-View writer Jason Maloney is working for the U.S. Census this year as an enumerator in his area so we asked him to share his experience.

Many people wish they could do something to improve their rural communities. Often country folk believe they really don’t count. But this is the time when each of us can have a lasting effect on the vitality of our rural community. All we need to do is stand up to be counted -- and Wisconsin is doing it. Nationally as of Aug. 21 there has been more than 73 percent of households covered in total – about 64 percent by people responding online, by mail or by phone. Minnesota has the best response rate in the nation at 73.8 percent, followed closely by Wisconsin and Washington, both at 71.1 percent of people responding. Census workers have contacted another 18.7 percent in Wisconsin, for a total of 89.8 percent covered so far.

Every 10 years since 1790 the United States has conducted a census. It’s a requirement contained in our constitution. By counting the number of people in the nation and determining where they live, funding levels are determined for roads, schools, hospitals and a myriad of other amenities that make life more livable. Boundaries for Congressional and state house districts are also determined decennially based on the most recent census. National census results have an effect on life in rural America for a decade.

The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the Department of Commerce, is tasked with conducting the census. Census Day is April 1. In normal times enumerators, the people who count door to door across the nation, count near Census Day. But the pandemic has delayed field work by enumerators; they are visiting people until the end of September after a national extension. 

People who do the in-person count are recruited from neighborhoods around the nation. It’s likely the people taking the census are neighbors of those whom they’re visiting. Census workers are out between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., seven days each week. All enumerators practice pandemic hygiene by wearing masks and social distancing. They will also be wearing a census-identification badge that includes a photo, name, expiration date and a Department of Commerce watermark. If he or she misses a household, the enumerator will leave a notice that contains directions for responding by telephone or computer.

This year enumerators are using Census Bureau smartphones to record data. The Census Bureau states it carefully guards all personal information gathered. Enumerators swear an oath to maintain confidentiality. A law called the “72 Year Rule” prohibits the Census Bureau from releasing personal information gathered during a census for 72 years. That provides for secure collection of the data that generates the statistics used to parcel out funding while ensuring everyone can participate without compromising privacy.

Some people have received paper census surveys, follow-up phone calls, or emails from the Census Bureau.

  • Paper surveys have “U.S. Census Bureau” or “U.S. Department of Commerce” in the return address. They are returned to Jeffersonville, Indiana, where the Census Bureau has a mail-processing center.
  • Any phone call from the Census Bureau will be brief; all responses are kept confidential. The 2020 Census caller will not ask about financial information or ask for a Social Security number. The caller will only review the responses to the 2020 census that were previously provided.
  • Emails from the Census Bureau will have instructions or information to complete a survey online, by phone with a Census Bureau representative or by paper. The Census Bureau will not ask anyone to provide personal information via email.

This year we can all stand up to be counted. And technology has made it possible for us to sit at a computer or make a phone call to be counted. It has never been easier for each of us to make each rural community a better place for the next 10 years.

Visit 2020census.gov to complete the 2020 Census or call 844-330-2020 to complete the 2020 Census, or to verify that correspondence or personnel are from the Census Bureau.

Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.