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With Deadline Approaching, Census Bureau Says It Has Counted More Than 92 Percent Of Wisconsin Households

AG Josh Kaul Announced Tuesday He's Joining A Lawsuit To Block Bureau From Ending Counting Early

202 census letter mailed to US household
Paul Sancya/AP Photo

There are four weeks left to complete the 2020 U.S. Census.

Just over 72 percent of Wisconsin households have responded to the census online, by mail or over the phone this year — a higher rate than any state but Minnesota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wisconsin’s Ozaukee and Washington counties have the highest self-response rates of any counties in the country. An additional 20 percent of Wisconsin households have been counted by census takers.

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In Milwaukee, where the self-response rate is just under 60 percent, the city’s Common Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday directing city employees to ask residents calling for non-emergency services whether they’ve completed their census form.

“It’s important for people in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin to fill out the census because when you do that, it determines the amount of money that we could get as a state from the federal government,” said Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, who proposed the resolution.

The census also impacts congressional representation and the breakdown of the state legislature, he said.

Across the U.S., just over 83 percent of households have been counted, according to the Census Bureau. But experts warn the rush to complete the count amid the coronavirus pandemic could result in the undercounting of minority groups that are less likely to self-respond.

The Census Bureau announced last month it would conclude its count on Sept. 30, a month earlier than originally planned, in order to begin analyzing the data. In a statement, the agency said it “intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses.”

“Now that we only have one month to go, just four weeks, and not a full two months, it’s important for us to put our foot on the accelerator in terms of encouraging our residents, our constituents to fill the census out, so we can make sure there’s as close to a complete count as possible,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has joined a lawsuit requesting a nationwide stay to stop the Trump administration from cutting short the period during which census data is collected, according to a news release from the state Department of Justice.

Kaul, along with a coalition of attorneys general, counties and cities, argues the move will cripple the bureau’s ability to take an accurate count, which will be especially difficult in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, which has forced some families from their homes.

The Census Bureau announced last month it would use new forms of contact to reach households that haven’t responded amid the pandemic. For the first time, it will email households in census blocks with response rates below 50 percent if contact information is available.

Federal law requires the agency to complete data collection and determine state apportionment by Dec. 31 of each census year. Earlier this year, the Census Bureau determined it would require a four-month extension to complete the census amid the pandemic. In August, four former Census Bureau directors, who served under nine presidents, issued a letter advocating for a deadline of April 30, 2021, but Congress hasn’t granted an extension.