Virus outbreak hampers 2020 Census efforts in New Mexico

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In this Wednesday, June 22, 2016 photo, American Indian jewelers sell their artwork in the plaza of Albuquerque’s Old Town, N.M. The nation’s Hispanic population grew by 2.2 percent to 56.6 million, and New Mexico had the largest percentage of Latinos in the country at 48 percent, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Data also showed New Mexico has one of the highest percentages of minorities in the country. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The suspension of field operations by the U.S. Census Bureau due to the coronavirus outbreak has left some New Mexico residents without the ability to easily participate in the national head count.

Olivia Padilla-Jackson, state finance secretary and the chair of New Mexico’s Complete Count Commission, said Tuesday this has resulted in artificially lower-than-average response rates and poses a burden for the state to overcome.

As of mid-April, 37% of New Mexico households had responded to the census, compared to a national average of 48%.

Census workers have been unable to hand-deliver forms to households that don’t have standard addresses or that use P.O. boxes. Nationwide, only 5% of the population falls into this category, but nearly 18% of New Mexico households rely on a hand-delivered form. Only Alaska, West Virginia and Wyoming have a higher percentage.

“When you consider that so many New Mexicans haven’t even received an invitation to participate, it’s no surprise we lag in responses,” Padilla-Jackson said.

In those counties where hand-delivery isn’t a major consideration, officials said residents are responding at or above the national average. For example, Bernalillo, Chaves and Los Alamos counties all have participation rates over 45%.

Rural areas that include Catron, Mora and Rio Arriba counties have response rates in the single digits.

The U.S. Census Bureau plans to resume field operations in June.

State officials have been pushing for everyone to participate since it helps determine allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding.

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