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Texas Lags Behind in Census Participation, Despite Digital Push

Even before COVID-19 consumed this nation’s attention, Texas faced strong headwinds to achieve a complete count. For starters, the Census is mostly being conducted online, but about 1.6 million households in Texas lack Internet access.

(TNS) — Just as we feared even before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Texas is lagging in its response to the 2020 census.

As of Tuesday, we were 40th in the nation, with a response rate of about 44.7 percent, according to census data. That puts us between Louisiana and South Carolina.

By comparison, at the top of the rankings is Minnesota, with a response rate of 58.8 percent. Interestingly, the Midwest dominates the top 10 for census responses: Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa were tied for second, as of this writing, with response rates of 55.4 percent. Nebraska wasn’t far behind at 55.3 percent. Kansas and Illinois rounded out the top 10 with response rates of more than 53 percent.

If this were college football, many Texans would be livid about our absence from the top. Someone would need to be fired. But for some reason, when it comes to civics, we tend to shrug, even though a lackluster showing for the census will cost us billions in federal funding and in representation. This matters, y’all.

As Dudley Poston Jr., a retired demography and sociology professor with Texas A&M University, wrote in these pages last month, an undercount of just 210,000 people could cost the state $711 million each year. It could also cost Texas an additional congressional seat.

Even before COVID-19 consumed this nation’s attention, Texas faced strong headwinds to achieve a complete count. For starters, the census is mostly being conducted online, but about 1.6 million households in Texas lack Internet access.

And in San Antonio, 1 in 4 households are believed to be without Internet access, according to census data.

Consider the 78207 ZIP code on San Antonio’s West Side. According to data collected and mapped by Community Information Now, a number of census tracts in that ZIP code show response rates thus far of 30 percent to 33 percent. These tracts are also defined by extremely high poverty rates — some as high as 44 percent — and the majority of households lack broadband Internet.

In other words, these are residents who are extremely hard to reach, are not connected online and aren’t being counted.

This fits with a larger statewide trend. It’s been estimated about 7 million people live in hard-to-count areas across the state, but mostly in heavily Hispanic West and South Texas.

The Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census didn’t help matters. While any information given to the census is confidential, the concern is the mere specter of the question would muffle responses.

And, of course, there is the issue of Texas’ failure to create and fund a complete count committee.

It was a challenging environment to get this right — and then came COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, the Trump administration has rightfully sought to extend census counting through Oct. 31, a delay that would need congressional approval. Field operations — when canvassers would go door to door — have been suspended for safety with the goal of resuming June 1.

There is no question the delay is warranted and needed, but there is some question as to whether an additional four months is the right amount of time. Is that long enough for a complete count? And what would it mean for the drawing of new political maps? In Texas, a such a delay would likely mean redistricting data could come after the next legislative session, meaning Gov. Greg Abbott would have to call a special session.

While these considerations are out of each of our hands, those with an Internet connection can still fill out a response at It takes 10 minutes.

For those wondering, San Antonio needs to step it up. As of Tuesday, the response rate for Bexar County was at 47.9 percent, which ranked 1,246 in the nation. The response rate for the city of San Antonio was at 46.5 percent, which ranked 8,787. Surely, we can do better. We must.

©2020 the San Antonio Express-News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.