Photo: Ha'ena

Shape our future starts here. United States Census 2020

The 2020 Census is underway and the number of households responding is low. As of May 15, Honolulu County’s self-response rate was 61.7%, Maui County was 44.1%, Kauaʻi County was 42.3%, Hawaiʻi County was 33.1% and Kalawao County was 5%.

“The Census sends cards to street addresses and not PO Boxes, which many in our rural communities utilize and, with the current pandemic, it has highlighted the lack of connectivity for these communities, not only their own access but the overall infrastructure,” says Sheri Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lōkahi.

Most Native Hawaiians live in rural locations. According to OHA’s “Native Hawaiian Data Book” which uses 2010 Census data, those populations are in Waimānalo, Oʻahu (81.3%); Kualapuʻu, Molokaʻi (71.9%); Nānākuli, Oʻahu (71.5%); ʻUalapuʻe, Molokaʻi (70.6%); Maunaloa, Molokaʻi (67.3%) and Hāna, Maui (65.9%) respectively.

The US Census does not mail to PO Boxes because it would need to cross-reference a physical residence, and the system isn’t set up to do that. The US Census also requires that households have a Census ID in order to participate, which isn’t available until a household is linked to a physical address. The Census’ “Update/Leave” operation is intended to remedy that by sending workers out to leave questionnaires on doorsteps. The pandemic delayed the operation, but its goal is to reach every house once it begins.

Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, who represents Hāna, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, believes residents want to participate, but rural communities are at a disadvantage. He and his team have been actively promoting the Census by creating Wi-Fi hotspots so residents can access the internet and passing out instructions on how to complete the Census using an online workaround with a phone number instead of a Census ID, but most find it too complicated and stop.

“The federal government is not taking into consideration the vast number of people who live in rural communities. There are 6,000+ people there (East Maui) and most of them don’t have a street address,” English says. The response rate in East Maui is currently 8.4%. “Unless you hire someone who knows where the families are, you won’t find them. You need local knowledge. We’re going to be vastly under-counted because someone in the Census Bureau made a decision early on to only mail to residential addresses.”

The importance of accuracy is undeniable. It affects funding for schools, roads and healthcare. Staying informed and being proactive is the best solution for now.