With coronavirus dominating conversation, both public and private, April 1st slipped by quietly this year. Here in Maui County, it was Day 8 of Mayor Michael Victorino’s “stay at home/work from home” amendment to our Public Health Emergency Rules. None of my friends, not even the most kolohe pranksters, felt like April Fooling anyone.
April 1st was also Census Day. Still is, actually. April 1, 2020, is the reference date — not the deadline — for this year’s census.
Since 1790, the U.S. government has conducted a general population count every 10 years. That first survey, directed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, included the 13 colonies, which became the original states, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, Vermont and the Southwest Territory, later incorporated as Tennessee. Both Jefferson and President George Washington disputed the final count of 3.9 million as being too low.
Three centuries earlier, around the year 1500, the first known census in our islands was conducted by Umi, king of Hawaii island. According to the Hawaii State Data Center, Umi assembled the people of his realm on a plain near Hualalai and directed each person to place a stone on the pile representing their district. From the hill upon which he sat, Umi could gauge the population of the districts by the size of the rock piles.
Another notable census took place near the turn of the 19th century in Wainiha Valley, Kauai, where more than 2,000 residents were counted. 65 of them (3.25 percent) were described as Menehune. Several decades later, missionaries conducted the first full-scale census, covering all the islands and reporting a population of 130,313. Apparently, no Menehune were counted in that poll.
The Hawaiian government census in January 1850 found only 84,165 residents. Subsequent censuses, taken approximately every six years, showed continuing decline until 1876, when the count reached a low of 53,900. The kingdom’s population doubled over the next 20 years, surpassing 109,000 in 1896.
In 1900, Hawaii became a U.S. territory and was included in the national census. The 1990 census marked a couple of population milestones: over 1 million in the State of Hawaii and the first six-figure count (100,504) for Maui County. This year’s census will likely see the City and County of Honolulu surpass the 1 million mark itself.
Just a few weeks ago, the Census Bureau was actively recruiting temporary workers, and my alter ego, Tita, had joined the county’s census publicity efforts. But then the decennial survey was overshadowed by the other “c” word and Census Day passed with barely a mention.
Good thing Census Day isn’t like Election Day; you haven’t missed your opportunity to participate. Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced adjustments to the 2020 Census timetable, the count goes on. Field activities and fully staffed offices are tentatively scheduled to resume after June 1; of course, that date is subject to change with the guidance of federal and local authorities.
But why wait for the door-to-door visits? You may have received the census mailer last month, with details on how to respond. If not, you can go online to 2020census.gov and complete the short questionnaire. At the very least, it’s a way to pass a little of the stay-at-home spare time so many of us have now. And it’s another way to put into practice the rallying cry of this COVID era: We’re in this together; each one of us doing our part helps all of us.
Census data helps determine the distribution of federal funds over the next 10 years. Our recorded population affects allocations for emergency services, infrastructure, education, kupuna care, environmental protection and more. Census results also determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the drawing of congressional and state legislative districts.
A recent online check showed Maui County lagging behind the rest of the state and the nation in census response. I’m not sure whether this reflects apathy, unawareness, or a somewhat rebellious attitude. But as Tita would say, “It’s time, brah. Time to go down fo’ da count!”
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.