The 2020 census has had a low response rate so far, in large part due to the coronarivus, which ramped up about the time census forms were going out.
The Census Bureau has postponed the deadline from Aug. 14 to Oct. 31, and census workers are just getting back into the office this week after having had to work from home.
“Not having boots on the ground for two months in the hard-to-count areas of Mississippi definitely hurt us,” said Jase Payne of The Focus Group, which contracts with the state to promote the census.
Less than half of Pike Countians had filled out their census forms as of last week, according to the website mscensus2020 .org, which tracks county-by-county responses.
As of May 28, Pike County had a total response rate of 49.8%, of which 26% was online. In 2010 Pike had a 59% response.
So far Mississippi has had a 55.6% rate, compared to 60.3% nationwide.
The government uses census data to determine how much money to send areas for a wide range of public programs. Lower counts mean less money.
“Medicaid, Head Start, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, school lunches,” Payne said.
“Federal dollars go to hospitals, schools, roads and bridges,” he said.
The online response rate is particularly low at 33.8 percent, making Mississippi 50th in the nation in that regard.
“We knew going into this that we’re having broadband issues throughout the state,” Payne said.
Census information is also used for political redistricting — local,o state legislative and Congressional.
“It has huge political implications,” Payne said. “It could lead to new representation in some areas or it could lead to representation leaving some areas.
“It affects every community in the state of Mississippi.”
In March, the Census Bureau mailed forms to household residents with information on how to respond by mail, online or over the phone. In mid-April the bureau followed up by mailing forms to people who had not responded.
From April through June, census takers normally work with the public to get information not yet reported. However, the coronavirus forced them to work from home until this week.
“It absolutely has affected operations from the Census Bureau,” Payne said. “We had two months where the enumerators who visit door to door, those operations were halted.
“Operations in Mississippi have ramped back up in Jackson and Gulfport,” he said. However, “they are not interacting with civilians at this time.”
County boards of supervisors are among many agencies that depend on state and federal funds to provide community services, funds determined in part by the census.
Pike County supervisors discussed the census at a recent board meeting.
“The online application is simple,” said board president Sam Hall. “We need to encourage the people in the county to make sure they do their census.”
“It’s very important for the amount of money we get in the county,” Hall said.
Redistricting for the next election is also based on census data.
“It can affect the composition of the board as of the next election,” said board attorney Wayne Dowdy.
Supervisors stressed the ease of responding.
“You don’t have to get out,” said Robert Accardo. “Just get online and do it and help our county.”
People without computers can fill out the paper form or make a toll-free phone call.
“A lot of folks don’t have a computer to go online,” said Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky.
And some people are uneasy about filling out questionnaires, especially from the government.
“They think because it comes in the mail their liberties will be diminished,” Bowsky said, noting that some people consider the census “another government intrusion.”
“We try to tell them it’s in the best interests of the county.”
Supervisors agreed there needs to be a renewed effort to get people to fill out their census forms.
“Get the pastors to mention it in churches and let them know they can help,” Hall said.
People who have lost track with their census forms can fill them out online at mscensus2020.org.