Local efforts key to census accuracy

Counties should start local efforts to encourage census response by late 2018

By Charlie Ban
National Association of Counties

The 2020 census is still a year and a half away. But on the other hand, the 2020 census is only a year and a half away.

In addition to record keeping and congressional representation, the share of $800 billion in federal funding hinges on results of the census, making it crucial for counties to help ensure an accurate tally. Although the Census Bureau will hire 500,000 temporary workers to follow up with addresses that do not respond, counties are in the best position to reach out locally to convince residents to buy in.

“If you get the count wrong, your county is going to feel the impact for a whole decade,” said Karen Narasaki, a consultant to the Bauman Foundation. “Every statistic is normalized back to the census — food assistance, low-income heating, children’s health insurance, housing.”

The last two census counts have had 74 percent national response rates, and the bureau expects 65 percent of people to respond to census forms before the bureau initiates follow-up contact.

Counties typically form Complete Count Committees, which pair local officials with members of community groups and business owners to plan outreach.

Tim Olson, associate director of field operations for the Census Bureau, said counties should start forming committees in late 2018 and early 2019, but some have a head start. Coconino County, Ariz. has been planning throughout 2018 and along with its seat, Flagstaff, has pledged $300,000 over two years to aid outreach and turnout. That will make up for the loss of Recovery Act funding for the 2010 census.

“It’s less than $2 per resident,” said Kim Musselman, special assistant to the county manager and the coordinator for the county’s census work. “We estimate every person counted in the 2010 census accounted for $1,900 in federal funding, so it’s a pretty good return on investment.” READ MORE.

View the predicted mail non-response rate for census tracts using the Response Outreach Area Mapper

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