The real, national census isn’t until 2020, but this is Census Awareness Weekend here in 20 counties of Georgia and South Carolina involved in the 2015 Census Test.
“We’re asking all clergy to please mention it when they go to worship on this weekend, and to make the Internet accessible to those who may not have it at home, that they could do it through their congregations, their houses of worship, their churches, mosques, synagogues,” said Thurmond N. Tillman, a U.S. Census Bureau representative.
Response to the experimental online census being conducted in the Savannah media market, which includes Bulloch and neighboring counties, will be used by the Census Bureau to help determine whether the 2020 census can be conducted online.
“By doing it online, it could save as much as $5 billion,” Tillman said.
The census test began March 23, when the form became available online, and ends May 31. The address is census.gov/2015.
“It should take approximately 10 minutes or less,” Tillman said.
His official title is partnership specialist; his assignment, to enlist support from local organizations and encourage people to participate. One thing he has emphasized in public appearances in Statesboro is the special role of the Savannah media market in this effort.
“The nation is watching us,” Tillman says.
Viewers seeing the ads on television may think they’re part of a nationwide effort, but the bureau is currently conducting census tests in just two areas nationwide, in and around Savannah, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona.
The Phoenix test is different. It focuses on how census takers do follow-up for people who do not respond initially. So the online test census for the Savannah media market plays a unique role, at this stage, in the development of an online census.
Reasons for selecting this area included the size and diversity of its population and the mix of high- and low-Internet use areas, according to a fact sheet produced by the Census Bureau.
The 20-county region “sort of mirrors the United States as far as rural, urban, race, the income level, poverty … that’s why this area was chosen,” Tillman told the Statesboro City Council.
“With less than a million people,” he said, the Savannah media market is “large enough for a good test” but relatively inexpensive to survey.
Also on May 5, Tillman spoke at the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners meeting.
In addition to the online census test, the bureau is mailing a paper form to 10 percent of the population of the 20-county area. In an interview this week, Tillman said he knew some of the forms had gone out but didn’t know if they were sent all at once or staggered.
“What I really need you to stress is, please don’t wait for a form,” he said. “Go online to census.gov/2015 and fill it out.”
With the church outreach underway, this Sunday is “Census Sunday” for the test. But churches could still promote participation on the last two weekends of the month, Tillman said. One Savannah church, St. John Baptist, is hosting a May 24 concert by the Wardlaw Brothers with this linked to census test promotional materials.
Tillman has also sought help from fraternities and sororities and their alumni associations and from chambers of commerce.
Although not hosting special events or making direct appeals, the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce “is promoting the awareness of the census test through our communication with members and through all of our committee activities,” said Chamber President Phyllis Thompson.
As required by the U.S. Constitution, the 2020 census will be used to apportion congressional districts. Each 10-year census is also used districting seats on local boards and councils. In addition, the census now influences how more than $400 million from more than 100 federal programs is distributed to state and local governments each year, according to the Census Bureau.
Results that adequately represent the community are important for other reasons, Thompson said.
“Demographics that I believe will show a thriving and growing community help lead to more development, more local jobs, more places that are attractive to retailers,” she said.
However, residents’ responses on the 2015 test will not be actual census results.
“The efforts the U.S. Census Bureau is undertaking to help identify methods for more complete assessment and less cost to taxpayers we hope would translate to the ever-important 2020 census,” Thompson said.
What’s in it?
The test census as taken by the reporter asked the full name, birth date, race and national origin of each person in the household, and asked about the family connections between the people living there. The online form asked about home ownership or rental and contained multiple follow-up questions about whether anyone in the household lives somewhere else part of the time.
“Same-sex husband/wife/spouse” is a relationship option, along with “opposite-sex husband/wife/spouse” and options for unmarried partners.
Tillman described the test census as containing about 10 questions, but it asks more questions for households with multiple occupants.
The test counties are Appling, Bacon, Beaufort, Bryan, Bulloch, Candler, Chatham, Effingham, Evans, Hampton, Jasper, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Montgomery, Screven, Tattnall, Toombs and Wayne.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.