By Jim Buchanan
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the response rate to the 2020 Census in North Carolina has been slow in comparison to many other parts of the country.
And Jackson County has been slow in comparison to North Carolina.
Nationwide, the self-response rate to the first cohorts of Census mailings stood at 21 percent Tuesday. North Carolina’s rate was 18.5 percent.
Jackson County’s rate was 7.4 percent.
Sylva bucked the county trend but still lagged the state and national rate with a 13.3 percent response rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely accounts for some of Jackson’s low numbers.
“I think the low response rate is due, in part, to students returning home,” said Mike Poston, Jackson County Planning Director. “We are currently working with WCU to reach out to those students to encourage participation consistent with the Census guidelines.
“I think the other contributing factor is that we have a good deal of people who do not receive their mail at their address. Since the Census does not send information to P.O. boxes, they have not received any information. The Census will conduct what is called Update/Leave to those addresses. This process is where a Census worker will deliver a Census form to the door for the occupant to complete. Update/Leave is not the enumeration process, meaning that the Census worker will not be knocking to ask questions. They are there to drop off the form. If there is no response to the Census, an enumerator will be sent to the address later in the process.”
Census data is used to determine how federal dollars are disbursed at the local level, meaning funding for the next decade for public schools, senior services, public safety, food programs and more will be impacted. The amount of funding dollars tied to every individual response in Jackson is about $1,600, or $16,000 over the course of the decade.
Census mailings began earlier this month. The mailings are an invitation to take the Census online with an individual code followed by reminders and a paper questionnaire. Those who do not respond will be canvassed by Census takers later in the year.
The original nonresponse follow-up from Census takers was scheduled for April 9-July 31, but that scheduled is now delayed to May 7-Aug. 14. Schedules for nursing homes, student housing and the homeless have also been delayed.
With social distancing mandated due to the coronavirus, community partner gatherings at places like the Jackson County Public Library and Department on Aging have been put on hold. The county is looking to set up internet hot spots to address the curtailment of those services.
“As a reminder, anyone can fill out the Census online,” Poston said, “even if they haven’t received a letter of form from the Census. We hope that everyone that has internet access will fill out the form online. If they have questions or need help, they can contact the Planning Department at 631-2261.”