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With less than two weeks left in the official deadline to complete the 2020 Census, there has been no response from people in about 4.5% of households in New Hampshire – roughly 20,000 houses, apartments, short-term housing units, group facilities and condos.

About 1,000 census workers are in the state at the moment, knocking on doors that haven’t responded online or during earlier attempts by the Census Bureau.

“We have to make at least 6 attempts before going to proxy,” said Jeff Behler, regional director for the Census Bureau in the Northeast. “Sometimes we just sit outside a driveway, or an apartment complex, see if someone will let us in.”

Soon the Census Bureau will go to close-out mode, under which they ask proxies such as neighbors to determine how many people were in the household on April 1.

“That takes a little bit longer,” Behler noted.

The Census Bureau is also doing some random rechecks, to confirm information collected by workers.

“If you have already responded and they come knocking, please answer. They may be asking about a neighbor, may be there to verify an address,” said Behler.

The census has been run every 10 years since the nation began – it is required in the first article of the U.S. Constitution – but the 2020 tally has been scrambled by COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s cutbacks. Most recently, President Trump decided in August that the time for in-person counting, already shorter than in the past census, should end Sept. 30, a month earlier than planned.

That unexpected change was put on hold by a federal judge and is the subject of two lawsuits that want counting to continue through the end of October, but the current status is uncertain. Since most census workers are temporary hires, the Census Bureau says this uncertainty has greatly complicated its ability to complete an accurate count.

Census data is used to measure many types of federal funding and the New Hampshire Municipal Association has estimated that each person who is not counted in the final tally costs the state “about $2,771 of lost federal funds annually.” This implies that the current census shortfall could cost the state at least $50 million a year, although that number is extremely inexact because it depends in part on how well other states do.

New Hampshire’s figure of 95.5% as of Friday is exactly the same as the rate of Massachusetts and slightly less than Maine (98%) or Vermont (97%), yet is better than the national average of 93.6%.

The decennial census is also used to divvy up seats in Congress, but New Hampshire’s population compared to the rest of the country has not changed enough to change the number of seats we have in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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