LOCAL LEADERS ATTEND CENSUS MEETING … A Complete County Committee meeting was held in Pike County last week by the U.S. Census Bureau in order to help foster participation in the upcoming 2020 Census. Those regionally elected and civic leaders attending include: (seated, L to R) Mona Swihart, Marlene Steen, Pat Coleman, Darlene Watson, Betty Burchfield and Emily Evans; (second row) Sally McKinnon, Verna S. Cantrill, Shelbie D. Allen, Teresa Triplet, Dana Harris, Bruce Bean and Jessica Ashley; (third row) Samuel Quarles, Jimmy W. McKinnon, Billy T. Smith, Brenda Wilson, Harry Brown, Jane Fugitt, Rodney Fagan and Terry Oliver.
MURFREESBORO — United Census Bureau representatives were on hand in Murfreesboro last Wednesday in an attempt to bolster participation in the upcoming 2020 census.
Partnership Specialist Emmett Morris led the discussion to help develop local complete count committees as well as to identify local stumbling blocks to obtaining complete participation.
He told the group that local complete count committees would be a large help, for they know of the uniqueness and quirks of their communities.
Morris said it would be important to locally “engage, educate and encourage,” offering such information as how it has helped communities and how the census impact residents on the local and individual levels.
“The public as a whole is not participatory,” said Morris, asking how many people attend city council meetings. “We are the wealthiest nation, and public participation is down in all aspects of public life.”
He added that it was important for communities to take ownership of the census, that more complete participation would ultimately benefit the community.
“These are the numbers you live with for the next ten years,” Morris said succinctly. “Man has always lived by numbers, the way of getting those numbers has just changed over the years,” said Morris.
He acknowledged the growing distrust of government and that a confluence of factor was creating push back from the average citizen, as well as people being cautious about personal information being shared after being gathered by internet, phone and mail.
“It’s all about trust,” said Morris, who noted that the Census Bureau’s job to count the population would be “dead in the water” without widespread community support.
“Everyone benefits from census data, even if they live almost completely off the grid,” Morris told those in attendance, saying that any resource, such as water availability could be affected. He said the numbers affected thing from the “macro” (large groups of people) to the “micro” (small groups of people or individuals).
Additionally, he said that many of those least likely to participate in the census are those that are most likely to need services that are based on the numbers collected by the survey, such as veterans, seniors, farmers, millennials and minorities.
“No place is too large or too small to get or need accurate data,” Morris said.
Morris added that by law information collected by the Census Bureau was secure, protected by laws and the courts for the last 72 years. The 1940 census was the last to be fully public in its release.
“Even with the law protection, the trust factor is a big hurdle,” he said citing Title 13 of the United States Code that makes violating the confidentiality of census results a felony. However, he empathized with those who had some fear, stating that our social media world was a prime example of how released information was no longer private and could be used against you.
He assured those in attendance that sensitive information like bank accounts and social security numbers would not be collected.
Morris told the group that ultimately any information they could get out to the public would be for the best as well as why it was important, because it would be demystify the process and thereby garner the largest participation possible.
“There are no secrets about the questions,” said Morris, adding that when the questions are finalized people would be able to see them all in a transparent process. “You just cannot provide the answers for another person — otherwise, all help is important, for the more people know, the more participation there will be.”
Stating that the questions asked by the Census Bureau have changed as the country has changed since 1790, it all has fallen under a principle by then congressman James Madison who said “to serve the people, you need to know more about them.”
Morris added the controversial long form that was sent to one in ten people in the 2010 Census had been done away with, having been replaced by the American Community Survey that was also operated by the U.S. Census Bureau. He noted that the census was done every ten years, whereas Community Surveys were done every one, three or five years depending on population.
While not a “big lever for participation,” Morris added that getting addresses correct would be a big part of the plan for people to be correctly counted because the numbers were a “big part of our democracy.” He said that the numbers ultimately go toward the drawing of voting districts, which determine the number of representatives for each state in the United States House of Representatives. He relayed that Missouri lost a congressional seat as a result of the census count in 2010.
Being a somewhat transient town, he said places like Murfreesboro could campaign for inclusion of “snowbirds” or others that lived in two or more different locales during the year, but that each person could only be counted once regardless of their number of residences.
College students are counted where they attend school if they live locally in apartments or dormitories. He said that was because they student lived locally and were using the resources at the university’s location, even if the spent the summers in their home town. The U.S. military will conduct their own census in conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau.
One of the biggest questions answered was that citizens technically cannot help others fill out the form without being worn in as a census employee. However, Morris said that any community member can held persuade and educated about the need to participate in the decennial effort.
Some representatives had questions about getting the hispanic community’s participation due to a large number of illegal residents and their distrust of government.
Printed forms will be available in both English and Spanish, with a multitude of languages available on the online version.
Morris told the group that the U.S. Census has been mandated by the U.S. Constitution since 1790 to count all citizens, legal residents or not. He said that the “legal citizen” question could be problematic to gaining accurate results, but that it was currently being legally decided as to whether on not to include the question.
Arkansas is a part of the Chicago region for census purposes, which includes Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Questionaries for the census will be mailed in mid-March of 2020, after a complete canvasing of local addresses had been completed. Those who did not return the questionnaire in about four to six weeks would be subject to a in-person follow-up by census employees.
“We want to increase response rates and lower follow up visits,’ Morris said, noting that information could be obtained by secondary sources (neighbors) after six attempts to visit with a resident. Arkansas had a 69% participation rate by the mailed questionnaire in 2010, meaning 31% had to counted by door-to-door visits. The national average for initial participation rate was 74%.
Another reason for limiting in-person visits is related to the possible dangers of personal interactions, which can lead to dangerous situations due to drug elements, dog bites and overprotective landowners.
“It was bad in 2010, and will be even worse now,” Morris said of possible dangers, also mentioning a number of scammers who tried to gain information under the guise of census workers.
Morris said that making sure people knew what questions would be asked could only help alleviate the scammer issue, so as to identify people seeking other information, and said that Census workers would have an ID badge and a bag with the U.S. Census logo on it.
Those with P.O. Boxes and no residential mail will not receive a survey, and will be expected to fill out the form online, by phone, find their own survey to mail back in, or be covered via in-person follow ups.
Morris also said that overall participation for the census was down, including 1% in Arkansas, hence the reason for the local meeting to try and combat any further decreases.
In fact, from 2000-2010, Southwest Arkansas saw some of the biggest drops statewide in census participation, with only Clark County actually showing an increase in the regional area:
(County, 2000 Census % Participation, 2010 Census % Participation)
• Pike — 63%, 57%
• Montgomery — 60%, 51%
• Howard — 67%, 60%
• Hempstead — 63%, 61%
• Nevada — 63%, 53%
• Polk — 65%, 61%
• Clark — 66%, 67%
Also, Census Bureau would attempt to hire for positions locally, including those position canvassing address to being and providing follow-ups toward the end of the process. For more information on employment, visit 2020census.gov/jobs or call (855) 562-2020.
Visit census.gov for more information.