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Census self-response rates vary by county during pandemic

Delaware Public Media

While Delawareans deal with a deadly pandemic and record unemployment, the U.S. Census Bureau continues to collect responses to the 2020 Census. 

The census count determines political representation and the portion of certain federal funds that flow to a given state. Advocates have stressed the need to get an accurate count in Delaware. 

Public officials have said Delaware lost millions in federal funding due to an undercount in the 2010 census. Advocates are committed to making sure that doesn’t happen again. 

New Castle County public relations officer and advisor Jessica Gibson-Brokenbaugh said last month the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person events the County had planned to drum up census participation. But she sees the pandemic as an opportunity. 

“People are understanding right now with stimulus checks and CARES Act money, that these numbers all come from the Census,” she said. 

Gibson-Brokenbaugh adds that the virus has created a feeling of unity amongst Delawareans. 

“It’s a sense of community,” she said. “It’s a sense of, we’re in this together. That really is, I believe, what’s helping us with the census.”

As of Wednesday, the self-response rate in New Castle County had reached nearly 63 percent—compared to the final self-response rate of around 71 percent in 2010. 


The Kent County self-response rate sat around 62 percent as of Wednesday, compared to a final self-response rate of more than 68 percent in 2010. 

So far the self-response rate is much lower in Sussex County, at around 48 percent as of Wednesday. The rate has nearly reached the final 2010 self-response rate of just over 49 percent. 

Bernice Edwards leads the First State Community Action Agency, which is helping with census education and outreach in what Edwards calls “hard-to-reach” communities in Sussex County. 

“Our role was to make sure that we got into those communities ... letting them know that their taking part in the census could increase several services that could come to the State of Delaware, i.e. education, healthcare, housing, infrastructure, community development," she said.

The communities Edwards' organization focuses on include West Rehoboth, Cool Spring, Coverdale Crossroads, Walkers Mill, Slaughter Neck and several communities on the western side of the county, she says.

The virus has complicated, but not prevented, Edwards’ outreach. 

“It has been different. Before, we could go right into the communities, and that was to community meetings,” she said. “So right now … we’ve been successful in reaching the hard-to-count populations by participating in the virtual church and their social gatherings, you know, Zoom etc.”

Delawareans can “self-respond” to the 2020 census by phone, mail or online. 

NPR has reported the U.S. Census Bureau expects a majority of households that respond to the census on their own to do so online this year. 

The Census Bureau is reporting an online self-response rate of just over 54 percent in New Castle County, nearly 49 percent in Kent County and 37 percent in Sussex County. 

The Census Bureau has extended the self-response phase through October because of the virus.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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