LIMA — If Allen County wants a shot at landing a Target store, its residents need to fill out the Census.
That was one of the messages delivered by Lima Mayor David Berger, Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan and Lima Chief of Staff Sharetta Smith during a meeting with The Lima News on Day 1 of the Census kick-off.
Basically, during the 2010 Census, over 10,000 Allen County households didn’t participate leaving an estimated half a billion in state and federal dollars off the table, and local leaders don’t want to see the same mistake in 2020.
“The Census only has nine questions for most people, and so it’s not an egregious task. It is something that can be done relatively quickly,” Berger said.
Getting local buy-in and combating disinformation, however, has been the problem.
Certain subgroups, for instance, have been hard to engage on the local level. Census maps from 2010 show a concentration of low participation rates throughout the city, especially among those living on the south side of the city, and local census committees have been using federal resources to target such groups with the pertinent information as a way to convince residents to spend the five minutes answering the survey.
Barriers identified by the census that stop people from filling out the form include language, informal and/or complex living arrangements, distrust of government, lack of awareness and myths about who needs to be counted.
Technology has also been identified as a barrier due to a change in how the 2020 Census is ran. For the first time ever, the Census is gathering data digitally, and families without a home computer or basic tech skills will have to rely on public computers to fill out the Census. Organizations throughout the community — the Lima Public Library, the Allen County Department of Jobs and Family Services, Western Ohio Community Action Partnership, Area Agency on Aging 3 and St. Mark United Methodist Church — have all pledged to allow residents to use their computers to do so.
While digital data collection will be the norm, there will be some groups that won’t necessarily need to head to a computer. The first stage of the census count will include a mailer sent to each household with a digital code needed to fill out the online form, but second and third stages will steadily increase the efforts to get people counted. If residents fail to fill out the form after the first mailer, they will eventually receive the option to fill out a more standard mailer that can be sent back to the Census. If that fails, Census workers will still be making rounds and knocking on doors to count the stragglers.
To overcome undercounts, the Lima/Allen County Complete Count Committee are also relying on some new tools. Mobile count centers will be deployed at a future date, to be determined, and local committee members will be able to track which areas have yet to respond to the Census in order to deploy additional resources in those areas.
As for the importance of the Census, much of the data informs government allocations over the next decade, and counts can influence local infrastructure projects, such as roads, and government programs. Private companies, like Target, also use the demographic and population data collected by the Census to inform site selection.
“We’re very fortunate to sit in on economic development discussions in the past few weeks. Population comes up.” Noonan said. “You talk about manufacturing, expansion, growth and new business coming in. You look at workforce. Workforce is your population. This is all being considered as it relates to economic development.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.