As of Friday, 49.3% of Bulloch County households had responded to the 2020 census. Within Statesboro, only 37.4% of households had responded. The self-response rate for Georgia overall was 58.2%, and the national response was 62.3%.
Of course, this has not been an ordinary year for the 10-year census, which has been mandated by the U.S. Constitution since 1789. Following the census target date of April 1, the U.S. Census Bureau’s legion of enumerators was originally to have fanned out with door-to-door visits to non-responding households from late May until July 31. But that effort, like much else in America, was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the enumerators’ visits are set to begin Aug. 11 and continue until as late as Oct. 31, Marilyn Stephens, the Census Bureau’s assistant Atlanta Region census manager, said in a phone interview. The Atlanta Region includes seven states.
“If we were on our original timeline, we would be getting prepared to be out of the field by July 31st,” Stephens said. “But on August the 11th is when we will start sending the enumerators out to secure the interviews with nonresponding households.”
During the delay, the Census Bureau retooled its training and procedures.
“Our staff have all been issued hand sanitizer and masks that are mandatory while they’re on duty,” Stephens said. “They will be practicing social distancing, so they will not conducting any onsite interviews inside. They will be conducting them outside, preferably in a well ventilated area.”
As was already the case, census employees will have ID cards with their name and photograph, a valid expiration date and the Department of Commerce watermark. They do field work only between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and carry an electronic device, such as a laptop or smartphone, emblazoned with the Census Bureau logo.
‘Avoid the knock’
If fact, residents can still “self-respond,” complete the census themselves – online, by phone or by mail – and that is what the Census Bureau hopes they will do.
“Our message today is ‘Avoid the knock, respond now,’” Stephens said Thursday.
Only one response per home is needed.
To complete the census online, go here and click on “Respond.” The online questionnaire asks for a 12-digit census ID number, which should have been on a census invitation letter or reminder card you received last spring. But there is also an “If you do not have a Census ID” line to click on.
To complete the census by phone, call 1-844-330-2020.
Or, if you still have a paper census questionnaire you received in the spring, you can fill it out and mail it in. The 2020 form is shorter than many past census forms.
Officially, April 1 was Census Day, but that date serves only as a reference point, Stephens said. A baby born April 2 or later should not be counted in the 2020 census, for example. The idea is to count whoever was living in a household on April 1.
Why complete it?
The Constitution mandates that a census be conducted every 10 years to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the same principle, the population counts came to be used for drawing state legislative districts and other voting districts, down to those that elect members of city councils, county commissions and school boards.
But to encourage participation in recent decades, officials have emphasized that census data are also used in determining how federal and state funds are distributed to the local level.
“Some of the people have not responded, and they really should understand that it pays to participate in the census,” Stephens said. “In those funding formulas the population numbers weigh very heavily.”
She listed emergency management and emergency preparedness, funding for rural hospitals and other health care systems and programs, education programs such as Title I that schools depend on, Head Start for preschoolers, Pell Grants for college students, services for seniors and veterans, transportation and school safety programs as examples.
Boro’s low response
When the Bulloch County government, in cooperation with the city of Statesboro and Georgia Southern University, formed a Complete Count Committee last winter to encourage participation in the census, some hard-to-reach areas and populations were identified.
The Portal area was once mentioned as a potential low-response area, but households within the city of Portal, with a 49.7% self-response rate as of Friday, have completed the census at a better rate than Statesboro’s 37.4%. Among the municipalities in the county, Brooklet’s response rate was best, 57.1%, while 53.9% of households in Register had completed the census.
In Statesboro, university students make up a sizeable portion of the population. Students living in off-campus apartments were described both by the Census Bureau and local officials as a particularly hard-to-count population, and that was before Georgia Southern, like other universities and colleges statewide, close its campuses and went to all online instruction last spring.
But the University System of Georgia took out TV ads encouraging students to complete the census and be counted in the places where they attend school. Georgia Southern also sent messages to students encouraging those in off-campus apartments to complete the census “using the address at which you would be living on April 1 if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Some students initially get counted twice, by their parents on their census questionnaires back home and by the students themselves in their apartments near campus, Stephens noted. This is something the Census Bureau seeks to sort out, through its follow-up work, in order to count each person only once.
“And college students are counted where they go to school,” Stephens said.
As of Friday, Bulloch County’s census response rate was lower than the response in several neighboring counties, but a few were lower. Candler County’s response rate was 50.8%; Effingham County’s, 60.8%; Emanuel County’s, 48.4%; Evans County’s, 44.8%. Bryan County had the highest response rate in the area, 61.4%, while Jenkins County’s was lowest by far, 28%.
For the state of Georgia as a whole, the final self-response rate a decade ago, in the 2010 census, was 62.5%. So the state’s current 58.2% is “not too far behind where they were in 2010,” especially considering that self-response is still underway before the “non-response follow-up,” begins, Stephens said.
The coronavirus pandemic also hindered the local Complete Count Committee from face-to-face efforts to encourage completion of the census, said Olympia Gaines, clerk to the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and one of the co-chairs of the committee. The other is Statesboro City Planner I Justin Williams.
“We’re partnering with the city of Statesboro and some other community partners to try to push more of a social media-type of marketing effort …,” Gaines said, “and then the city of Statesboro, they’ve done a couple of things in the community.”
For the past couple of months, the city has integrated some census messages into its social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, said Layne Phillips, public information officer in the city manager’s office. The city has also placed a “Fill out your 2020 Census” link on its website’s homepage.
During the “Squashing the Spread” mask distribution event July 15 and 16 at Luetta Moore Park, city staff members with two iPads helped people respond to the census if they had not already done so. The city also created census completion yard signs in both English and Spanish and placed these around town last week, Phillips reported.