LIMA — In 2010, Allen County census workers counted 78% of households, and over the last decade, local governments left an estimated $500 million on the table as a result.
Census officials presented those numbers Monday at the Lima Rotary Club to stress the importance of pushing census participation rates for the 2020 Census.
“A lot of people think of the census as attendance, but it’s way more than that,” Sophia Fisher, said associate planner with the City of Lima.
As Fisher explained, the importance of good census count is in the data. Both federal and state rely heavily on the numbers the census provides to make fair allocations to nonprofits and local governments. Consequently, when the census makes statistical assumptions on what should be a complete data set, allocations can end up less than what’s actually needed.
And it’s for that reason that census officials are trying to get the word out about the need to participate in the federal undertaking.
Part of the difficulty in getting that word out, however, is that certain populations come with unique problems
A good example is the language barrier. Roughly 2.5% of Allen County households speak a different language than English at home, and if materials aren’t presented accordingly, those houses can easily get missed, Fisher said.
Other particular difficulties remain among low-income populations, those with informal living arrangements and some minority populations. Reasons include lack of education on how the census works, who needs to be counted and general distrust of the government.
A new difficulty this year in particular is computer access. For the first time in history, the majority of the 2020 Census will be completed online, Fisher said, and at least one-fourth of houses in the county have no personal computer at home.
Some populations facing such issues will still receive a paper census form in the mail that can be returned. Most of the general population, however, will be mailed a card with the necessary information to complete the census form online.
“We want to encourage people to fill out the census online as soon as they get their cards,” Fisher said.
If residents still don’t fill out their census forms in time, they could still be visited by a census taker.
Gloria Baughn, a recruiter with the U.S. Census, estimates that the county will require 700 census workers to get an accurate complete count. Currently, only 400 have applied for the job, and she encouraged the crowd to try to increase that number.
Those 700 workers will work from eight to 12 weeks — at $17.50 per hour — to ensure an accurate count over the spring months. Some workers, Baughn said, are currently being trained to use the digital technologies the federal government has set up to complete the census.
“It’s a great public service that you get paid for,” Baughn said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.