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Low Response Rate So Far On 2020 Census Questionnaire Concerns Officials

  From closed schools, to lost jobs to struggling businesses, add the Census count to the growing list of things affected by coronavirus pandemic.  WHQR reports on how the count has been going -- and what to expect when the Census closes on September 30th. 

The United States Census happens every ten years -- and it counts everyone who lives in the country.

But in recent years, underfunding, a proposed controversial citizenship question, and a general distrust of government have contributed to a reduced response rate. Then came the coronavirus.  

Lauren McConville is a Communications and Outreach Coordinator for New Hanover County, and is heading up local attempts to get residents to answer the Census. She says the pandemic derailed their efforts:

“Yeah, unfortunately, our entire campaign was based around in-person events, so linking up with things like the Azalea Festival or different events that were happening around the county during the busy spring and into the summer season.” 

Instead, local governments and non-profits who support the Census effort have switched to more digital and online communication. That means it’s critical for people to have Internet access. 

Rebecca Tippett is the Director of Carolina Demography at UNC’s Carolina Population Center. She says for both rural and communities of color that can be a challenge:

“We see a strong relationship between low Internet access and lower rates of response. But realistically, I think the Census came out at a time during incredible distress.”

But according to McConville and Tippett, officials are working hard to try and capture the responses for these areas, despite the fact that federal government officials moved the deadline up from October 31st to September 30th. 

Here’s Lauren McConville:

“I think it’s terrible. And this is just my personal opinion, but that’s one month less to count people in those hard to count neighborhoods and populations. We’re seeing FEMA dollars which are a part of those federal funding points that are decided by the Census. Now just think about FEMA dollars for the next ten years and how that’s going to be impacted.”

Officials with the Census Bureau say they’ve moved up the date to ensure they can make their own reporting deadlines to Congress. But Rebecca Tippett says that gives Census workers little time for door-to-door follow-up with non-respondents. 

“So we’re seeing both a shortening of the data collection period and a shortening of the processing period and I’m concerned about the impact both of those will have on the completeness and accuracy of the count.” 

So what’s actually at stake? What does the Census count mean for our communities?  Here’s Lauren McConville: 

“With the increase in population that we’ve seen even just over just the past 10 years, just think about what that’s going to look like, in five years from now, and not having the federal funding that we need to support infrastructure, roads, schools, and all the other assistance programs.”  

Rebecca Tippett also says that getting the Census count right means more political power for the state: 

“The Census is the foundation of how we distribute seats in the US House of Representatives. North Carolina is currently projected to pick up a 14th seat. And the Census data will also be used in redistricting.” 

The goal for New Hanover County is an 80% response rate. If you haven’t filled out your Census form, workers could be knocking on your door in the coming weeks. They will be wearing an official Census Bureau badge and personal protective equipment. 

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  The 2020 Census is underway now. And the Cape Fear Region, like the rest of the state and the country, is seeing historically low response rates. But as WHQR reports, there’s a lot at stake, with the Census results distributing political power and money.      

Census workers will soon be deployed door-to-door to those residents who have not responded to the nine questions on this year’s form. 

Right now, the response rate is based on the number of households who have completed the form either online, by phone, or by mail. In New Hanover County, the completion rate is 59%, with Pender and Brunswick counties trailing slightly behind. 

Rebecca Tippett is the Director of Carolina Demography at UNC’s  Carolina Population Center. She says completing your form will determine how our election districts are drawn -- and how many representatives we receive. But that’s not all:

“So there are over 300 federal programs that use Census derived data in their allocation for over one and a half-trillion dollars a year of spending. North Carolina gets $44 billion of that, so over the decade that’s about $440 billion dollars.” 

Statewide, four out of ten North Carolinians--about 4 million people--have yet to respond. 

Census Resources:

To fill out online, go to My2020Census.gov

To answer the Census by phone, call 1-888-330-2020.

Cape Fear Counts 

Census.gov

Carolina Demography

Cape Fear Collective - Census 2020 Map

Why the Census is important in NC?

Census Timeline

Census Takers In Your Neighborhood