2020 Census yields a surprise

Thu, 08/19/2021 - 3:45pm

Block Island is used to thinking of its year-round population being “about a 1,000.” The 2020 U.S. Census data suddenly tells a different story. Population data by city and town was released last week and New Shoreham’s population has somehow increased by a
whopping 34.2 percent, from 1,051 in 2010 to 1410 in 2020. That’s 359 more residents.

By contrast, the annual Groundhog’s Day census, which is thought to be more accurate by many, and is, of course, conducted on February 2, found that there were 1094 people on the island in 2021, and 902 ten years earlier, in 2011.
The island led the state in population increase – by percentage, that is. Central Falls’ population increased by 16.6 percent but none of the other cities or towns varied in either direction by more than 9 percent. Narragansett decreased by 8.4 percent (1336 people).
The United States census was first conducted in 1790 and over the years the methods of counting have changed. According to one former census worker on Block Island, in 2010 census takers went door to door conducting interviews. In 2020, census packets were dropped off at every house or known dwelling unit. Respondents could mail them back or go online to fill it out. Those who did not respond were paid a visit by an “enumerator.”

April 1 is not when people are actually counted, but Linda Wright, who was the supervisor for the census on Block Island told The Times that “the date was made clear as all enumerators not only completed training  but were also reading from a written script on their technical devices.

2020 was certainly an odd year with the sudden shutdown of stores, restaurants, workplaces, and schools in mid to late March due to Covid. Although the census count is supposed to reflect the whereabouts of citizens as of April 1, had college students left school by then? Had city dwellers fled to their summer homes? Did Block Islanders who spend the winter in other places actually return to the
island by then? Did everyone just forget where they were and when?
Or, perhaps more people were counted because of the options to respond online and by mail. Wright said she didn’t know how many responded in this manner. “Because my tenure with the census has ended, it is difficult for me to retrieve any of the specific data,” she said.