Census matters, workers already on the ground in Chatham

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/6/19

U.S. Census workers are already on the ground in Chatham County even though the 2020 Census doesn’t begin in earnest until next years.

Workers are canvassing area homes, verifying addresses in …

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Census matters, workers already on the ground in Chatham

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Posted

U.S. Census workers are already on the ground in Chatham County even though the 2020 Census doesn’t begin in earnest until next years.

Workers are canvassing area homes, verifying addresses in advance of the 2020 Census, to ensure mailings get to every resident.

The United States has been conducting a census, the counting of each resident in the country, since the first census which occurred in 1790. The census is mandated in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

Those counts serve two main purposes, according to Courtney Cooper-Lewter, a policy analyst with Chatham County government. The first is for political representation. The census impacts how Chatham County’s school, legislative, commissioner, municipal and voting districts are drawn. It also determines how many representatives North Carolina receives in the U.S. Congress. The second impact of the census is on federal spending. The federal government distributes $675 billion each year to states and local governments based on the census. North Carolina has received $16 billion each year since the last census, according to Cooper-Lewter. This funding assists with road construction, schools, and emergency response. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, federal funds to states, counties and communities are “based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors.”

“It’s really important that we get as many people counted as possible so that we can get adequate support for Chatham County residents,” Cooper-Lewter said.

Chatham County is participating in the U.S. Census’ Complete Count Committees (CCC) program, which focuses on engaging local community leaders in raising awareness of the U.S. Census to ensure as many people participate as possible. Starting last month, Cooper-Lewter has been working with community leaders, trusted voices in the community, including members of local governments, schools, non-profits and community leaders, to brainstorm on the best efforts to spread accurate information to Chatham County residents and encourage them to fully participate.

There are several concerns the group is hoping to address. The first is reaching out to “hard to reach” residents, or those who are less likely to complete the census. That includes senior citizens, non-English speaking residents, minority populations, rural residents, and those that neglect to count their children under 5 years old. Cooper-Lewter notes that the Complete County Committee is actively working to create strategies to reach these populations. For example, the group is working with the Chatham County Cooperative Extension to reach out to farmers in the county. They are also working with community leaders within these populations to find the best ways to engage and connect. Cooper-Lewter notes that Chatham County residents should begin seeing the fruits of those discussions in January.

“In 2000, Chatham County had a 71 percent response rate,” Cooper-Lewter said. “In 2010, Chatham had an 81 percent response rate. For 2020, we are hoping for at least a 5 percent increase in response rate, putting us at 86 percent or more.”

Another concern is the change to the census from a traditional paper form to using an internet form. This year, residents will be sent a postcard providing the internet link to complete the census. If the online form is not completed, a paper form will eventually be sent out. If those forms are not returned, U.S. Census workers will begin to canvas those addresses. The group is aware of the digital divide specifically in the “hard to reach” groups and are considering alternatives. This may include working with the library system, but they have not yet confirmed if or how that may work.

The official U.S. Census count will begin next year, but the U.S. Census Bureau is hiring. Pay varies by region, but starts at $12 per hour. To apply for a job working with the U.S. Census Bureau, go to 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (1-855-562-2020). The phone line is also available in Spanish.

If you are interested in participating in the next Complete County Committee meeting on Sept. 18, please contact Courtney Cooper-Lewter at courtney.cooperlewter@chathamnc.org.

Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at caseymann@chathamnr.com.

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