'Doom Loop' In Ohio: Lack Of Internet Access Dampening Census Response Rate

Two people walk past posters encouraging participation in the census.
People walk past posters encouraging participation in the census. [Ted S. Warren / AP]
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The 2020 census is the first one you can fill out online. That came in handy when the pandemic hit and the legions of volunteers who would normally come knocking on your door were grounded. But people who don’t have internet access are at risk of being excluded from the census. 

“It’s showing up in the data because we see that the areas that have low internet connectivity have lower numbers,” Juan Galeano, a census consultant for the Cleveland Foundation told ideastream. “There’s a lot of other things that go into it, but that’s going to mean less resources there and that’s going to hurt those communities in the long run.”

Galeano said the areas that need the most representation in the census, poor rural and urban neighborhoods, also have the lowest rates of internet access, and often low census response rates too. He referred to the trend as a “doom loop.” 

Sixty-seven percent of Ohioans have responded to the census, and over half of those households responded online. But in Cleveland, fewer than half of households have responded to the census, and only 29.7 percent did so online. 

According to the latest American Community Survey, 37 percent of Cleveland households don’t have home internet

“It’s a really big problem,” Kate Warren, a research assistant at the Center for Community Solutions and a member of the county’s census committee told ideastream.

“There are some areas of the city where 12 or 13 percent of households have responded online and the map of those tracts and where the response rates are looking low mirrors when you look at a map of where people may have broadband internet connection issues.” 

Warren said an undercount by the census could lead to missed financial support and political representation for those communities.

Many local groups had all sorts of plans to reach traditionally undercounted populations, including events at local libraries and community centers, but those events had to be canceled when the pandemic hit. 

People can still respond to the census by phone or email, and many libraries have made wifi available in their parking lots for the public to use. 

Census volunteers are expected to start knocking on the doors of unresponsive households later this month. There have also been mobile questionnaire assistance units dispatched around the state to help folks fill out the census at community centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other locations.

However; plans for mobile units have been delayed in Cuyahoga County due to the pandemic. 

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