Skip to content
CityLab
Housing

The Census Bureau Wasn’t Counting on the Coronavirus

As census takers for the decennial survey prepare to knock on doors and count residents, anxieties about the spread of COVID-19 could hamper their efforts.
A jobseeker holds an information packet during a U.S. Census Bureau 2020 job opportunities workshop in 2019. Coronavirus fears could complicate the already difficult task of hiring enough census takers.
A jobseeker holds an information packet during a U.S. Census Bureau 2020 job opportunities workshop in 2019. Coronavirus fears could complicate the already difficult task of hiring enough census takers.David 'Dee' Delgado/Bloomberg

Up on the 18th floor of a federal building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, the census takers are getting ready. On the phone, a receptionist recites a job description to what could be a potential new recruit in Spanish and English. Administrators prepare the postcards that will soon be mailed to every household in the city, asking people to respond to the 2020 census questionnaire online or by mail.

For now, much of the work is happening behind closed doors. But starting on March 30, enumerators will fan out to count the city’s homeless population. And after the nationwide census kickoff in April, these enumerators will start knocking on the doors of households that didn’t respond to their postcards, beginning in May.