The 2020 Census deadline is finally here – for real, this time.

The census schedule has been repeatedly disrupted and moved – first due to the coronavirus pandemic, then due to a political and legal tug-of-war. It has gone from July 31 to Oct. 31 to Sept. 30 to Oct. 31 to Oct. 5 to Oct. 31 and now, finally, with the blessing of the Supreme Court, to Oct. 15.

“We expected this to happen, we just didn’t know exactly when,” said Patricia Williamson, the New Jersey Counts project director for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

But even that’s an imprecise deadline, as the census will end when it turns midnight in Hawaii. That means in New Jersey, people who’ve procrastinated to complete a census form that’s been available since March technically have until 6 a.m. Friday to answer the survey.

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“It has been confusing,” Williamson said. “The main thing that has been the concern is trying to get a complete count, which is why we wanted the extended date into October to make sure we can really reach the hard-to-count areas of New Jersey, where people were not getting counted as quickly.”

New Jersey’s overall self-response rate for this census was the highest since 1990 at 69.3%, up from 67.6% 10 years ago.

“So we’re up overall. But when we looked at the large, hard-to-reach cities where there’s a lot of people of color, which is where my focus was, they struggled to reach those 2010 rates,” Williamson said. “And even those 2010 rates weren’t that good.”

Glen Rock finished with the highest self-response rate in the state, 90.8%. Another 138 municipalities were above 80%. At the other end of the scale, exempting Shore towns with lots of second homes that are often nonresponsive, response rates included 44% in Atlantic City, 47% in Irvington and New Brunswick, 48% in Trenton, 50% in Camden and 51% in Camden.

Williamson points to Union County, where Scotch Plains went up from a 79.4% self-response rate in 2010 to “an amazing” 85.1%. Neighboring Plainfield had the best self-response rate among New Jersey’s urban cities but was still at 58.9%.

“There’s a lot of people there that were afraid to take the census. There’s a lot of fear, a lot of distrust,” said Williamson, who said some apartment managers didn’t encourage their residents to participate. “And so there’s whole areas of Plainfield that, just, they’re undercounted.”

Williamson said that in face-to-face meetings with reluctant residents, they can be convinced when told how census results determine federal funding for programs and apportionment of Congress. But during a pandemic, such canvassing was difficult.

“We did our best, given the pandemic, but we were not able to get some of the numbers up the 2010 (level), as we had hoped,” Williamson said. “We definitely saw between September and October, today, we did see some significant points in terms of increase.”

The Census Bureau says it has accounted for more than 99.9% of addresses in New Jersey, but Williamson cautions that “the number is a little misleading” because it’s not always clear how the information was obtained for the 30.6% determined through door-to-door enumeration.

Sometimes a person answers questions at their door, and perhaps they didn’t answer honestly. Sometimes the census worker gets information from a neighbor that in some cases amounts to best guesses. Sometimes they use other administrative records.

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“We don’t know the accuracy or the completeness,” Williamson said. “So the numbers we really use are the self-response rates because we know those are the ones that have actually been counted. Those are the numbers we really go by.”

There will be one last push Thursday through social media storms, text blitzes and government-placed robocalls to get the last holdouts to answer the census.

“Generally speaking, 10 questions. You can complete them in about 10 minutes,” she said. “And it’s going to impact your city, your community, your state for 10 years.”

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