By Jim Buchanan
Entering the next phase of the 2020 Census, Jackson County’s response rate continues to lag the rest of the state.
As of Monday, the self-response rate for North Carolinians who had received a mailing from the Census stood at 55.7 percent. Jackson County checked in at 26.7 percent, the fourth-lowest total in the state.
“The lower response rate is a combination of a lot of factors,” said Jackson County Planning Director Michael Poston, “one of which is that the Census just started the Update/Leave process last week. Jackson County has a large number of Update/Leave addresses.”
Simply put, the Census Update/Leave procedure means updating addresses and hand-delivering Census materials to a number of areas, including:
• Homes that don’t have city-style addresses.
• Receive mail at P.O. boxes.
•Have city-style addresses for emergency services, but aren’t used for mail.
• Have high concentrations of housing that is seasonally vacant.
“This will provide those residents that have P.O. boxes with the Census forms,” Poston said. “The WCU shut down also impacts the efforts to count students living off campus. WCU has been great to work with and has sent information to those students about completing the Census. We will also discuss how to reach out to those off-campus housing units in the fall, depending on how and when WCU resumes classes.”
Other reasons for the low response rate in Jackson are the coronavirus pandemic, which slowed the rollout of the Census and also shut down the availability of places like the Jackson County Public Library for online registration for those without home internet services.
Of the 16,642 households in Jackson County, 68.4 percent have internet. The Jackson County Economic Development Office has been working to set up WiFi hotspots to help those without access fill out their Census online.
For some of those households, those sites – mainly located at educational institutions across the county – can be a challenge to access. Nearly 900 households in the county don’t have a car.
The packets to be distributed by Census workers include a paper questionnaire that can be filled out and mailed in, and also include a unique ID number that can used to fill out the form online.
The Update/Leave process is scheduled to take approximately four weeks. From Aug. 11 to October, Census enumerators will be contacting those residences that have not filled out the Census. These are the “door-knockers” that will ask Census questions.
The U.S. Constitution requires the Census be conducted every 10 years. The results determine representation in Congress. The numbers are also used to determine future planning for roads and schools, and the distribution of federal and state funding to localities. In Jackson County, every person counted represents $1,623 in federal aid and $205 in state aid for CHIP, SNAP, school lunch programs, Medicare and Medicaid and more.
Poston said the Census is “an opportunity to make sure we receive the funding we are entitled to. The county will continue to provide the high quality of services we always have, but you can imagine all the good work that can be done if the funds we receive match the needs we have. We have good people doing good work throughout our community.
“And for five minutes today, we can receive 10 years of benefits, which is a pretty good return on investment.”