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Displacement During Pandemic Is Complicating the Count

Plans after the outbreak affect answer on census form
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 10, 2020 11:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's not meant to be a trick question, but many filling out their 2020 US census form struggle to answer: How many people were staying at your home on April 1? The pandemic has fostered sudden dislocation, making a typically easy question confusing, the AP reports. Some people living in coronavirus hot spots fled their homes or were hospitalized. Students living off-campus moved in with their parents once universities closed. Travelers got stuck far from home because of health concerns. Fran Kunitz left St. Louis to visit her sister in Fort Myers, Florida, in mid-March. She was supposed to fly back on April 1 but nixed those plans; she has a weak immune system and asthma and didn't want to risk catching the virus on a flight. Census Bureau guidance puts her in St. Louis, so when she fills out her form, she’ll have to ignore the part about where she was on April 1—the date that determines where people are counted once a decade.

The displacement is worrisome in New York City, epicenter of the US outbreak. It's leading to low response rates in wealthy enclaves of the Upper East Side and midtown Manhattan, where many left for the Hamptons or Florida. Response rates are lowest in neighborhoods where the virus hit hardest. Bureau guidelines say a person should be counted where they usually live if they expect to go back. "If they are not sure whether they will return to their usual residence after the crisis ends, then they should be counted where they are staying on April 1, 2020," the agency said. For college students living away from home, that means at school. Students living in college housing before the pandemic mostly are being counted by their schools, but it's confusing for those living off campus who have moved back in with their parents. For graduating seniors, the uncertainty is compounded because they're not returning to campus. The bureau says they should be counted at school.

(Read more US Census stories.)

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