Bulloch County is chronologically behind the curve in organizing to make sure residents get counted in the 2020 U.S. Census, officials said this week. But a Complete Count Committee is now forming.
County Manager Tom Couch and U.S. Census Bureau area Partnership Specialist Curtis Woody led a complete count kickoff with initial committee members over lunch Monday in the Bulloch County commissioners’ boardroom. The city of Statesboro was also represented after Woody spoke to city officials at a previous work session and they decided to combine their efforts with those of the county.
“We’re a little bit behind on the eight ball on where we should be with this,” Couch told the group. “I think a lot of it has been a function of everybody, and I mean everybody in this room especially, being very, very busy.”
Most Georgia counties already have their Complete Count Committees formed. But there is still time to mount an effective campaign moving into the census year and toward the official April 1 count date, he said.
“We don’t have time to waste, but we have time,” Woody agreed.
The purpose of such a committee is to encourage participation in the census. As part of that, members will devise tactics to reach people in social groups and neighborhoods that have historically low response rates. But the actual count will be performed by the Census Bureau and the census takers it is now hiring for temporary jobs, not by the local committee.
About a dozen people, including staff members from the county, city, recreation department, public school system and Georgia Southern University were present to form the committee. Couch called them “ambassadors for the census” and invited them to suggest other people to serve.
At that point, no representatives of the Hispanic community or other recent immigrant groups –considered likely to be undercounted nationwide – were present.
“This CCC is still forming, but one of the best practices that I would recommend is that you try to make this as diverse a committee as you possibly can,” Woody said. “The Hispanic community needs to be represented, other minority communities need to represented, and one of the key components of a Complete Count Committee that often gets overlooked is the faith-based community, but in particular the business community.”
In other words, employers, as well as churches and other religious organizations, should be involved in urging employees and members to respond to the census, he suggested.
Couch mentioned homeless people as one hard-to reach group that might be addressed.
More surprisingly, university students, especially those in off-campus housing, can also be hard to convince to respond to the census, Woody said.
As of a July 1, 2018, estimate by the Census Bureau, Bulloch County was thought to have about 77,300 residents. Back in 2010, the official count was 70,217.
Approximately 30% of the county’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods, according to information Couch presented. An interactive map of low-response or hard-to-count areas, called the Response Outreach Area Mapper, is available at www.census.gov/roam. The most current information is not based on the 2010 census, but on response rates to American Community Surveys conducted by the Census Bureau for 2013-17.
“Our overall response rates have been pretty good, but … we do have a couple of pockets that we need to be concerned about,” Couch said. “Some of them are what you might consider the usual suspects and some aren’t, but on the other hand, I don’t think we can ignore the places with the higher response rates either, because it’s important to get a good count.”
He referred to the rural, northwestern, end of the county around Portal as being a low-response area for the 2010 census. The ROAM map does not show that as particularly the case with the more recent surveys, but shows continued low response rates for some smaller but more housing-dense areas of Statesboro. These include the southern section of town that contains several off-campus student housing complexes, as well as part of the west side with its traditionally African American-majority neighborhoods.
In fact, the census tract with the highest predicted “low-response score” in Bulloch County is around the Georgia Southern. The university will conduct a “group count” of students in on-campus housing, Woody said.
“We don’t have to really worry about the students on campus, because they’re going to get captured by the group count,” he said. “It’s those students that live off-campus that we have a problem with.”
Census Day: April 1
Officially, April 1 is Census Day. By then, every home is supposed to receive an invitation from the Census Bureau to participate online, by phone or by mail. Counting efforts continue long past Census Day, but the idea is for everyone to be counted at the place where they reside as of April 1.
The first slide in Monday’s presentation stated that the goal of the 2020 census is to “count everyone once; only once; and in the right place.”
In a previous presentation, Woody noted that with this census, online questionnaires are being promoted as the primary way to participate. Mailed forms and visits by census takers will be used to follow-up with households that do not respond promptly.
Even those census takers are expected to enter the information electronically in the least paper-reliant census to date, Couch noted Monday.
Again surprisingly, national test marketing showed that millennials – college students and others in their age group – were the least likely to respond to an online census, Woody said.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t have the resources or the knowledge,” he said. “It was just apathy. They don’t really see how it relates to them. The population that was most likely to respond online were the seniors, because they get it.”
Why it matters
He and Couch emphasized the importance of the census to state and local governments and even to businesses.
Although the Census Bureau conducts other data-gathering efforts, such as the American Community Survey, in other years, the actual count done every 10 years is mandated by the Constitution for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the states. Similarly, the results are used to determine boundaries of districts with near-equal populations that elect members to state legislatures, county commissions, city councils and school boards.
For a long time now, census results have also been used to guide the distribution of grants and other funding.
“Federal aid is always a big issue because a lot of times federal aid, regardless of where it comes from, is often as population-based as it is need-based,” Couch said.
The census also gives communities “knowledge for planning” in categories such as housing, transportation, education and health care. It is even used by business in decisions on locating stores and factories, he noted.
The committee is planning a training session for its members with manuals provided by the Census Bureau. County Commissioners Clerk Olympia Gaines and Statesboro City Planner Justin Williams were named the census contact persons for the county and city.