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Hamilton, Essex counties lag in census participation

LAKE PLACID — Census takers will begin knocking on doors across the state this week. Essex and Hamilton counties continue to have among the worst census response rates in the state, meaning many of their households could soon see visits from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Essex County is ranked 60th of 62 New York counties for its 2020 U.S. census response. As of Sunday, just 38.8% of residents had provided information on their household to the Census Bureau, compared to 51.5% in the 2010 census. The only counties with a worse response rate than Essex County are Hamilton County — where just 17.5% of residents had responded as of Sunday — and Sullivan County, with a 32.9% response rate.

Because of the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline to respond to the 2020 census was extended from July 31 to Oct. 31 — but late Monday, the Census Bureau confirmed it would move the end date up a month to Sept. 30. (Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the new end date.)

The census counting process started on March 15, more than two weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New York state. Two days afterward, the Census Bureau temporarily halted on-the-ground operations and shut down field offices. Many of the offices have now reopened, including the one for this region.

Vacation and second homes

The Census Bureau faces significant challenges when it comes to ensuring residents of the Adirondack Park are counted, especially towns where much of the population is seasonal and where many of the homes are for vacationers rather than residents.

Hamilton and Essex are the only counties that are completely within the Adirondack Park boundary, and the Census Bureau’s enumeration data shows that vast swaths of them are designated as “update leave.” This means that many housing units either don’t have mail delivered to their physical location — indicating that the units could be second homes or vacation homes — or that mail delivery information can’t be verified. In Hamilton County, 95% of the housing units are classified as update leave, the highest proportion in the state. In Essex County it’s 35.6%, or roughly 11,000 addresses. That’s the third-highest percentage in the state, behind Hamilton County and Lewis County, at 40.3% update leave, according to the Census Bureau.

Even if an address is for a vacation home, a response is still needed, U.S. Census Bureau Regional Director Jeff Behler told the Enterprise in May.

Why it matters

Responding to the census is important for several reasons.

The 2020 census results will be a key part of determining congressional representation, Behler said, and there are concerns that New York state could lose multiple congressional seats as the state’s population continues to decline. It lost two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 census.

Census data is also used as part of the equation when the federal government disburses billions of dollars in funding and aid, including money for infrastructure improvements. Census data is a factor in some corporations’ decisions on where to establish new business locations. It’s also a factor in federal Pell and Title 1 grants for students, school aid, and funding for Head Start, national school lunch programs and health care systems.

Local response rates

Some of the lowest response rates in Essex County are in towns toward the southern end of the county, such as Newcomb, with a 21.9% response rate, and Schroon, with a 23.2% response rate.

In the last two months, the response rate in the greater Tri-Lakes region has improved.

The town of Keene — which has had low census response rates in the past — continues to trail behind this year with a 23.8% response rate, but that is up from 12.4% at the end of May. Neighboring Wilmington’s response rate has risen from 24.8% at the end of May to 36.1% as of Sunday, but lags behind its 2010 response rate of 54.1%.

The town of North Elba — which includes the village of Lake Placid, the hamlet of Ray Brook and part of the village of Saranac Lake — has a response rate of 40.8%, a slight improvement from its 38.2% response rate at the end of May.

The town of Harrietstown has a 47.6% response rate, up from 43.9% at the end of May; the town of St. Armand has a response rate of 46.2%, up from 43.2%. The town of Tupper Lake has the best response rate in this region at 51.4%. The town of Santa Clara has among the worst response rates at 16.2%.

New York as a whole continues to lag behind other states in census response, ranking 38th out of 52 states and U.S. territories with its 5.2 million household responses and 58.6% overall response rate.

The national response rate as of Sunday was 62.9%.

How to be counted

Residents can respond to the census in a number of ways.

For those with a traditional mailing address, census forms and instructions on how to respond by mail will be delivered directly and should have already arrived. Those with a post office box should receive notification through a census taker soon, if they haven’t already.

Residents can respond by phone by calling 844-330-2020 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 2 a.m.

Regardless of whether a person has received notification from the Census Bureau, self-reporting online is also an option. Visit “http://www.census.gov”>www.census.gov, and click “respond.” Enter your address, and then start the questionnaire, which takes just a few minutes.

There are also job openings available. Those interested in being a census field representative can email new.york.recruit@census.gov, call 212-584-3495 or visit www.census.gov/about/regions/new-york/jobs/new-york.html to see specific openings.

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