Residents who still need to complete the 2020 U.S. Census have two weeks to finish the once-in-a-decade headcount.
After extending the census deadline to Oct. 31, the U.S. Census Bureau recently shortened that deadline to Sept. 30, cutting a month out of the remaining time everyone has to fill out the census.
With this deadline looming, government officials in counties across Georgia are pushing for an increase in this year’s final census count amid hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and poor internet access in some areas.
As of Tuesday, roughly 85% of households across the state had completed the 2020 census either on their own or after census takers visited them in a door-to-door canvassing effort. However, that effort has been complicated by social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In Carroll County, 63.6% of the county’s residents have responded, including 50.5% online, according to U.S. Census data. This is lower than the 74% response rate during the 2010 census.
However, residents in Villa Rica have responded to the census more than the county overall at 67.4%. The City of Carrollton has a lower response rate at 58%.
“This has been the longest census ever,” said Theresa Campbell, assistant city clerk for the City of Villa Rica. “Originally, it was supposed to be over on April 15, but (the U.S. Census Bureau) has extended (the deadline) several times. We are still trying to get people to fill it out.”
At the 2000 census, Villa Rica’s population was 4,134. But by the 2010 census, the population had more than tripled to 13,956, an increase of approximately 238%. It is estimated the current population is somewhere north of 15,000, with 40% of its residents living in Douglas County.
The census is important to Villa Rica, as well as all the other municipalities because of the millions of federal funding that is available to cities based on their population.
Roughly $1.5 trillion will be available for states to tap into depending on the size of their census-determined populations, according to research from George Washington University.
The 2010 census provided $15.88 billion to Georgia based on a count of 9.6 million people statewide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website. Each Georgian that participated in the headcount brought $1,639.10 to the state.
This year, it has been estimated that each person in Carroll County is worth $2,300 in federal funds; each person in Douglas County entitles that government to somewhere north of $3,000 in funding.
Key programs that are funded largely on census data include Federal Medical Assistance Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part B, highway planning and construction, the Pell Grant program, and more.
With so much at stake, and the deadline drawing near, local governments are making a final push to ensure there is as complete a count as possible.
“Locally, our Complete Count committee members have continued to remind their communities that the Census is ongoing and can be completed online, via phone or via mail if you received a paper form,” said Jeremy Snell, chairman of Carroll County’s Complete Count Committee and executive director of the West Georgia Regional Library System.
Overall, 43 Georgia counties have increased their self-response rates since the 2010 census. But others, including Carroll and Douglas counties, are lagging when it comes to getting responses in.
The purpose of the census is to determine how states are apportioned seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in the 230 years since the first population count was conducted, the census has assumed more importance.
Like other states, Georgia uses census data to draw district maps for both the state House and Senate. Census counts are also the basis for how county commission districts are drawn, and how city council wards for towns like Villa Rica, Douglasville, and Carrollton are mapped.
During the 2010 census, nearly one-quarter of the population of both Carroll and Douglas counties was not counted, meaning that each county lost millions of dollars over the past decade for social, health, and other services.
Each county in Georgia has a Complete Count committee to inform residents of the census and how to fill it out. Carroll’s committee is made of government officials such as Commission Chairman Michelle Morgan and the City of Carrollton’s Community Development Director Erica Studdard.
Both Douglas and Carroll counties have made it a point of getting the word out about the census.
Campbell said there is one census tract in Villa Rica that has been called a “low response area.” This tract includes the city’s downtown and Mirror Lake community.
She added there has a been a social media push on the City of Villa Rica’s Facebook page, and booths have been set up at the Ingles grocery store and the city’s recent Gold Rush festival to inform residents of the survey.
Children under the age of five and people who are currently renting their home are two demographic areas have been a challenge for Campbell and her committee.
Those between the ages of birth and four years old are most likely to be undercounted, according to an Urban Institute study. As many as 46,400 such children in Georgia could be missed by the census, the study says.
The Urban Institute is a Washington, D.C., based think-tank that also estimates up to 177,000 Georgians may not be counted in 2020.
“We have tried to target multiple different areas because this is only done once every 10 years,” Campbell said. “Some people have never filled it out before and their parents did last time, so we went into attacking those areas.”