The 2020 census is now in overtime, with probably one bonus weekend to go.

The coronavirus and political considerations have repeatedly upended this year’s population count, which would have ended July 31 if operations weren’t suspended in March due to the pandemic. The Census Bureau moved the deadline to Halloween, then the White House shifted it back to Sept. 30.

A federal judge last week ordered the count to continue through October, but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the new target date to wind down operations is Monday, Oct. 5.

“The term ‘target date’ is pretty vague. We don’t know all what that means but that they are currently planning on ending their in-person counting and their self-response, where you can fill it out online, on Oct. 5,” said Peter Chen, policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

“There’s some question as to whether that’s out of compliance with a court order that’s currently being appealed in California, so there’s a lot of chaos and confusion around,” he said. “But what we do know is today is not the last day for census completion.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said people who haven’t yet responded should do so quickly and assume the count could end at any time.

“I hope the judge is right. Second place I hope that maybe the secretary is right. But my view is this: Let’s hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Get it in today,” Murphy said.

“Please, please, please sign up.,” he said. “It’s a matter of billions of dollars of federal aid that will go somewhere. Let’s make sure it comes here.”

Some get-out-the-count groups will continue their efforts through the coming weekend, Chen said.

“I think there are a number of sites that were only planned to operate through the end of September, but a number of organizations, I know that a number of municipalities are planning on continuing their census activities through this weekend with sort of the mini-extension,” he said. “The secretary of state’s office is also planning on continuing to push out activity over the weekend.”

The extra days are more helpful for Census Bureau employees than community volunteers, Chen said.

“At this point, a lot of the activity is really about the Census Bureau being able to hit all of those homes that have been missed so far or who have not yet responded for like the sixth, seventh, eighth visit to try to encourage that final response,” he said. “They’ll really try to flood the streets and get those last remaining responses collected.”

As of Wednesday’s update, which reflects Tuesday data, 99.4% of New Jersey households had been enumerated, including 69% that had self-responded and 30.4% completed by a census taker. That doesn’t mean 99% of people counted but rather that 99% of identified households have a response, which could be that they are vacant or a neighbor filled it out by proxy.

“New Jersey as a state is around that 99% level, but certain area offices have lower completion rates,” Chen said. “They are overwhelmingly areas that had the lower response rate, the self-response rate.”

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“So if we look at the area offices that still have below 99% complete it’s the Newark office which includes east Essex. It’s the Fair Lawn office, which includes Passaic and Paterson. It’s the Egg Harbor office, which includes Camden and all points south,” he said. “These are the areas where there were low completion rates, low response rates for the census already. It’s not a surprise that those are also the areas where it’s been hardest to get responses for the door-knocking operation.”

The completion rates across the state’s eight area census offices are: 99.4% in Parsippany, 98.8% in Trenton, 97.9% in South Plainfield, 97.3% in Jersey City and Toms River, 97% in Egg Harbor and Newark and 96.7% in Fair Lawn.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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