The first major field operation of the 2020 Census operations is underway, and field operatives will be out on foot canvassing addresses nationwide for the next two months, according to an announcement from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted once every 10 years. Census data is used to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress and how more than $675 billion in federal funds are distributed to states and local communities every year for services and infrastructure, including health care, jobs, schools, roads and businesses.
Census officials say address canvassing serves as a means of confirming the bureau’s list of homes and neighborhoods and is necessary to deliver invitations to respond to the Census.
But this time, there will be far fewer boots on the ground, thanks to satellite imagery.
“We were able to verify 65% of addresses using satellite imagery — a massive accomplishment for us,” Census Bureau Geography Division Chief Deirdre Bishop said during a media briefing. “In 2010, we had to hire 150,000 people to verify 100% of the addresses in the field, this decade we will only have to hire about 40,000 employees around the nation to verify the remaining 35% of addresses.”
The reduction in need for on-foot canvassers comes after the Census Bureau’s creation of new software called the Block Assessment, Research and Classification Application, or BARCA. The software compares satellite images of the U.S. over time, allowing Census Bureau employees to spot and document new housing developments, changes in existing homes and other housing units that did not previously exist, according to a bureau release.
Census Bureau employees, referred to as “listers” have begun walking through neighborhoods across the country checking addresses not verified using BARCA. The in-field address canvassing will continue through mid-October, according to the federal agency.
Residents will also be able to respond to the Census online for the first time in 2020.
The 2020 Census officially starts counting people in January 2020 in remote Toksook Bay, Alaska, according to the bureau’s release. Following that count, most households in the country will start receiving invitations to respond online, by phone or by mail in March 2020.
At the urging of the Census Bureau, localities including Cobb County are making efforts to ensure the maximum number of citizens participate in the 2020 count.
Jason Gaines, liaison to the Cobb Complete Count Committee, said the group is made up of people from various sectors of the community, including civic, non-profit, cultural/ethnic, and faith/religion-based organizations, to ensure that “all segments of the population are informed about the Census and the importance of responding.”
Gaines said the group’s No. 1 goal is education, and emphasis has been placed on reaching people in hard-to-count areas of the county to assist in getting the county’s participation rate up from the 77% mark recorded during the 2010 Census.
“(Those are) are generally areas that are socioeconomically disadvantaged, where there is instability in many of the households and/or English is not the primary language spoken,” he said.
Educating and reaching out to these communities is paramount because Census counts affect local planning for a variety of resident needs, Gaines said.
He said the count is also used to determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress and how district boundaries are redrawn, as well as affects business owners’ decisions on where they’ll “set up shop.”
While each of Cobb’s six cities has a representative on the Cobb Complete Count Committee, some cities have taken it a step further by creating Complete Count Committees of their own.
Marietta has its own committee, Kennesaw is working on creating its own and Smyrna’s committee is the most recently created, according to those cities’ public information offices.
Maxwell Ruppersburg, special projects coordinator and Smyrna committee member, said the city signed a resolution creating the committee and appointing Assistant City Administrator Scott Andrews as chair on Aug. 5.
Ruppersburg said the Smyrna area had one of the lowest response rates in the county during the 2010 Census, at about 72%.
“This funding goes to all kinds of county-level programs and state programs that end up helping fund things at the city level, and we try to emphasize that the Census is important, safe and easier than ever before now that people are being encouraged to respond online,” he said. “If you look at the number of people who weren’t counted (in Smyrna) and the amount of money that didn’t come to the state as a result, it was $23 million a year for 10 years. That’s $230 million of federal support.”
Most of the time, people don’t respond because they aren’t aware the count is happening, Ruppersburg said. Others are concerned about their privacy, he said.
But Ruppersburg said new challenges to making certain people feel comfortable talking to federal workers exist this Census that did not the last time around.
The discussion earlier this year of whether a citizenship question would be included on the 2020 Census garnered criticism that fewer people would respond for fear of being deported if they were undocumented.
While the question will not be included in 2020 and it is against the law for Census workers to share any personal information with any government agency besides the Census Bureau, the fear has not skipped over Smyrna communities, according to Ruppersburg.
Census workers could face a maximum of five years in jail and a $250,000 fine if they share respondents’ personal information, according to Census Bureau fact sheet.
“I think it impacts the trust a little bit, but that’s fundamentally what our job is: to communicate with the community and provide the right information, correct any misinformation or misunderstanding that’s out there so folks know that it is safe, that it is important and again, that it’s easier than ever,” he said.