2020 Census could impact development, representation

Published 8:58 pm Monday, January 20, 2020

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Research released this month by the Alabama Counts 2020 Census Committee reveals how likely Pike Countians are to participate in the Census.

Respondents were grouped into four separate categories regarding likelihood to participate: extremely likely, very likely, somewhat likely and unlikely.

Most Pike County residents polled responded that they are either extremely likely or very likely to participate – 26 percent said they were extremely likely to complete the Census while 44 percent considered themselves very likely.

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Census officials are specifically targeting residents who responded that they would be somewhat likely to participate – which was the response of 18 percent of Pike Countians.

“It’s important for us to understand each county’s odds of participating in the Census as well as accompanying motivations in order to understand how we can increase participation in apathetic areas,” said Kenneth Boswell, Alabama Counts Chair and director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). “We can be more intentional in our outreach and education efforts in areas where we see the biggest need.”

The research — which surveyed participants from all of Alabama’s 67 counties — was commissioned by Alabama Counts and conducted by Birmingham-based New South Research.

“Historically, around 60 percent of Alabamians have responded to the U.S. Census, and that number lines up with people that said ‘extremely likely’ and ‘very likely’ in our research,” said Boswell. “People that were ‘somewhat likely’ are the ones on the fence that we need to motivate to be counted. We have to share with them that it’s safe, quick, easy and matters a great deal to their community.”

A notable 43 percent of all counties polled indicated the primary factor deterring individuals from completing the Census was lack of understanding of its importance or use. This was the top deterrent in Pike County as well, with laziness being the second most common deterrent.

“What this tells us is that regardless of region — whether rural or urban — people need a greater understanding of what’s at stake for Alabama in regard to the Census, as education will heavily influence their decision to fill out their forms,” said Boswell. “Our job is to tell the Census story and why it should matter to every Alabamian.”

The Census will determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Alabama officials are concerned that the state could lose representation.

“It is very important that every citizen participate in the Census,” said Rep. Wes Allen.  “This determines congressional representation.”

The Census also affects federal funding, so officials are urging residents to take part in the process.

“Obviously the Census is very important for all different types of federal programs,” said Troy Mayor Jason Reeves. “It has a huge impact on our representation in Congress as well as many other different things. It’s something we encourage everyone to participate in.”

Marsha Gaylard, president of the Pike County Economic Development Corporation, said Census figures can also factor into recruitment of retailers and industries.

Our Census count is critical to economic development,” Gaylard said. “That’s why it’s so important to get it right. In the past, I don’t necessarily feel the count was accurate. We don’t think the income levels were accurate and we’ve actually had to dispute things like that when a company is looking at locating here. I’d like to encourage everybody to fill out the report and hopefully everybody will get counted. There’s a lot of people working, but it’s hard to find everybody. I personally have never had somebody come to my house or a form sent to me to count me in the Census. I don’t know how we do a better job of that, but it’s very important to our county.”

Lack of understanding the process is another inhibitor to participation.

For instance, 41 percent of respondents believed it would take more than 12 minutes to fill out their Census — with 38 percent reporting that they were unsure of the time investment. In reality, there are only 10 questions for a head of household and six per additional person. Ultimately, participation should take five minutes or less.

This marks the first Census in American history in which participants can fill out their forms online. In today’s digital world — and with technology at so many Americans fingertips — research among Alabama shows surprising results for this new era in Census recording.

When analyzing the positive or negative effect of moving the Census online by county, 67 percent — 45 of the state’s 67 counties — showed a negative impression.

“There could be many reasons for this, including distrust of providing online personal information or distrust in a new federal method,” said Boswell. “Regardless, people need to know they can still take the Census via historically tried-and-true methods.”

Beginning on or around March 13, 2020, each Alabama household will receive a postcard from the U.S. Census Bureau with instructions for how to complete the 2020 Census. Alabamians may respond in three ways: online, telephone or traditional paper form.

2020 Census jobs are available and applications are now being accepted, said Gregory Foster, Census 2020.

“The Census Bureau is committed to hiring census takers to work in their own communities so the opportunity to join the 2020 Census Team offers the opportunity to work close to home, receive great pay with flexible hours, weekly pay and paid training,” Foster said

Foster said those who would like to join the 2020 Census Team may apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs. For information or help with applying, call 1-855-JOB-2020.