On June 18, a joint meeting of the Brunswick City and Glynn County commissions was held to hear from a representative of the U.S. Census Bureau about the upcoming 2020 census. The aim was to ensure that Glynn County has an accurate count next year so they can secure as much federal funding as possible for local uses.

Census Day is April 1, 2020, and households will be asked to respond either by mail, phone, or online. Just 5 percent of households will receive their invitation in person when a census taker drops it off, and less than 1 percent will be counted in person (in very remote areas of the U.S.).

The U.S. Constitution mandates a decennial census count in Article I, Section 2. For those who have never paid much attention to the U.S. Census, it may seem like a benign or perhaps even irritating civic duty, but the implications of census data are far reaching and long-lasting. A lot can happen in a community during the decade in which census data are in place each cycle.

For instance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau between 2000 and 2010, self-identified Hispanics and Asians grew by 43 percent each; this represents 1 percent and 5 percent of the total U.S. population respectively. These numbers have implications for election politics, social assistance programs and language accessibility, among other issues. Taxation, representation in government, federal grant funding for local programs and services, redistricting, community and business planning, and public policy research are all heavily dependent on census data. In fact, the Georgia Municipal Association estimates that each Georgian that participated in the 2010 census effectively brought $1,639.10 into the state through funding mechanisms.

The 2020 census is facing some interesting challenges, however. First, in a pre-census study conducted by the Census Bureau, fewer than seven in 10 households said they intend to participate in the 2020 census. Of those who said they were not likely to participate, the majority were younger, less educated respondents. With a college education rate of just 29 percent in Glynn County, this could be an issue. Glynn County did, however, beat the national average with an 82 percent response rate in 2010.

Next, about 5 percent of our population reside in “hard-to-count” areas. This is common in more rural areas of the country, but also seems to impact minority populations like African Americans and Hispanics more so than non-Hispanic white populations. Likewise, 20.5 percent of Glynn County’s households have no or low internet access. Given that the 2020 census is making a long overdue push for electronic submission of data, our county may need to strategically deploy census workers to help cover these gaps.

Finally, the pre-census survey indicated that there is 1. high mistrust in government, 2. low familiarity with the census purpose (33 percent), and 3. significant concern (around 25 percent) about repercussions related to census responses.

If U.S. households do not trust the process, we will not see a positive response rate. The Supreme Court just struck down the inclusion of a citizenship question proposed by the Trump administration on the 2020 census. It appears that the fight over such a question is not, however, quite done. Whether you agree with such a question or not, it seems probable that such a requirement would impact response rates, particularly in areas of the state with Hispanic populations and will, undoubtedly, have far-reaching impacts for our state.

The information that can guide our decision-making around the census process is out there. We know where our vulnerabilities exist and where we need to deploy special attention. It will be important to use these data strategically to ensure an accurate count in our county and ensure that we have full access to the more than $675 billion in federal aid that is distributed to state and local governments using census numbers every year.

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