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Earlier deadline accompanies concerns about local completion rate for Census

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — As the 2020 Census self-response deadline has moved up a month to Sept. 30, local leaders are concerned with the current completion rate.

Ed Muire, the county’s planning director, said Rowan was on “the front-end of getting the word out” earlier in the year. But he worries “the message has been lost” due to the pandemic and executive orders.

“It keeps getting pushed (aside), but it’s still there,” he said.

Muire added that he’s concerned as time passes that people are less likely to complete the Census if they haven’t already. That’s why having enumerators who can be the “boots on the ground” going door-to-door is even more important. Door-to-door campaigning has been a safety concern because of COVID-19.

Additionally, the county planned to promote census completion at events, like the Cheerwine Festival.

The latest response rate for the county overall is 61.7%, which Muire said signifies “the needle hasn’t moved much from the last month or two.”

The latest data, according to 2020census.gov, shows a self-response rate of 59.2% for North Carolina, with 46.3% of those responses from the internet. The national self-response rate is 63.1%.

Both Rowan County and North Carolina’s response rate in 2010 for the census was 76%. In 2000, the county’s response rate was 73% compared to the statewide rate of 69%. The governor’s office established the goal of an 82% response rate for the 2020 census.

To date, 93 million households, or nearly 63% of all households in the nation, have responded to the 2020 Census, according to U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

Beyond signs at municipal and county buildings and promotion via social media, the county has tried to promote it at local COVID-19 testing sites. Muire said that can be difficult because health officials are primarily focused on testing and mitigating the pandemic.

But the current financial situation during this time is all the more reason to complete the census, he said, as responses “will certainly have an impact” on the amount and types of funding the county and local municipalities receive.

Census data also determines representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. And as North Carolina is within the top-10 most populated states, a “significant undercount” can occur for the state if other states respond better, he said.

Of all the municipalities, East Spencer currently has the lowest response rate — 31.2%. Other response rates, as of July 30, are:

• China Grove — 62%
• Cleveland — 52.8%
• Faith — 57.5%
• Granite Quarry — 61.3%
• Landis — 65%
• Kannapolis — 58.3%
• Rockwell — 59.6%
• Salisbury — 58.1%
• Spencer — 57.6%

Muire said the towns of East Spencer and Faith didn’t receive notices early in the year as a lot of those residents have post office boxes while the census is aimed at street addresses. That resulted in the county ensuring notices were visible at local post offices.

East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett said she’s “baffled” as to why East Spencer residents won’t complete the census.

In late June, Mallett, along with other community stakeholders, went door-to-door in the town to promote census completion. Stakeholders included aldermen Curtis Cowan and Albert Smith, Democratic candidate Tarsha Ellis, who’s running to represent North Carolina House District 33, the men’s ministry from Shady Grove Baptist Church, Rev. Andrew Davis, Rev. Stanley Rice, Sarah Christenbury and Shawn Rush.

But Mallett said she was hopeful for census takers to help promote completing the census to local residents.

Census data can determine the types and level of fundings counties and municipalities receive for schools, hospitals and infrastructure. And as East Spencer continues to grow, Mallett said, with plans for further development, the response is even more important.

Funds could be used for roads and the local school. She added that the town currently lacks a doctor’s office, but a higher response rate could change that.

“Money follows people,” she said. “Maybe someone would want to locate here if (the) numbers are higher.”

Additionally, representation is important. More than 70% of East Spencer’s population is Black, while nearly 10% is Hispanic, according to 2018 U.S. Census data.

Mallett said the town may plan another door-to-door campaign. But in the meantime, she welcomes any help in getting the response rate up.

Everyone living in the nation, including non-citizens, are included in the 2020 Census count. The questionnaire will not ask if anyone in a household is a U.S. citizen or for anyone’s social security number, and answers will not be shared with law enforcement. Responses can’t be used to impact one’s eligibility for government benefits. The Census Bureau also won’t ask for money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party or one’s bank or credit card account information.

Questions include:

• How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2020?
• Were there any additional people staying here on April 1, 2020, that you did not include in Question 1?
• Is this a house, apartment or mobile home?
• What is your telephone number?
• Name, sex, age and date of birth of each person living there.
• Are they of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?
• What is the person’s race?

Locals can complete the census at my2020census.gov, by calling 844-330-2020 or by returning the mailed paper questionnaire.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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