Census Rates Ignore Critical Factor That Over 160,000 New Mexico Households Not Yet Invited To Participate

STATE News:

SANTA FE — The suspension of field operations by the U.S. Census Bureau in response to Covid-19 has left nearly 18 percent of New Mexico without the ability to easily participate in the 2020 Census.

This has resulted in artificially lower-than-average response rates and poses yet another burden for our state to overcome for a complete count in the decennial effort. 

“New Mexico is shouldering a disproportionate share of the national burden when it comes to the impact that Covid-19 has had on the census,” said Olivia Padilla-Jackson, Department of Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the state Complete Count Commission. “When you consider that so many New Mexican’s haven’t even received an invitation to participate, it’s no surprise we lag in responses.” 

As of mid-April, 37 percent of New Mexico households had responded to the census, compared to a national average of 48 percent. 

Due to Covid-19, the U.S. Census Bureau suspended all field operations just four days after they began. This included efforts by census workers to hand-deliver forms to households that don’t have standard addresses or receive their mail at P.O. boxes. Nationwide, only five percent of the population fall into this category, but in New Mexico 17.8 percent of all households rely on a hand-delivered form. Only Alaska, West Virginia and Wyoming have a higher percentage. 

“When we take into consideration the households that haven’t even been given the tools they need to participate in the census, the New Mexico response rate is on par with the national average,” state demographer Robert Rhatigan said. “Nationwide, there is a direct relationship between low response rates and areas that should have, but weren’t able to, receive a hand-delivered packet.”

Counties where hand-delivery is not a major consideration are responding at or above the national average and we continue to make strides in those areas. Bernalillo, Chavez and Los Alamos counties all have participation rates more than 45 percent. Conversely, Catron, Mora and Rio Arriba counties have response rates of six percent or less but are almost entirely reliant on hand-delivered forms.  

“Where people can respond, they are,” Secretary Padilla-Jackson said. “I’m confident that when all New Mexican’s are given the tools they need to participate, they will.”

Responding online or by phone without a unique Census ID is not an ideal option for some as it can be difficult, especially for households with a non-city style address. 

“The bottom line is, if you have received your invitation, take your census as soon as possible,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “If you haven’t received anything from the Census Bureau, wait to receive your census invitation, and respond as soon as possible once you receive the form. We will ensure, all together, New Mexico is counted.”

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that they plan to resume field operations on June 1, 2020. The 164,000 New Mexico households who are supposed to receive a hand-delivered census form should receive that packet no later than July 9th, 2020. Until census field operations officially resumes, self-response rates for New Mexico will remain artificially low. 

The decennial Census helps determine allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding. Research suggests that each New Mexico resident not counted results in a loss of $3,700 per resident, per year.

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