Over four months past the usual April 1 deadline for responding to the U.S. Census, much of the United States is still behind self-response rates reported from 2010, including counties in North Georgia.
Self-response rates measure how many residents fill out the census on their own before census employees go door-to-door to addresses without recorded self-responses to collect the needed information.
With the deadline now extended into the fall due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many area counties and cities are currently 6-12% away from 2010 self-response totals.
Joe Legge, Walker County public relations director and chair of the local Complete Count Committee, said he tells people that if rates don't go up, they are leaving money for their community on the table.
"For every person that is counted in Walker County, there is $2,300 that flows back into our community every single year," he said. "So if someone doesn't fill out the census and turn it in, they're actually costing our community millions of dollars over the course of the next decade."
The county had many initiatives planned earlier in the year to try to reach a goal of an 82% response rate, Legge said, but the pandemic has derailed many of those plans.
2010 Rate 2020 Rate
National 74% 62%
Georgia 62.5% 57.9%
Catoosa County 71% 65.8%
Walker County 66.6% 56.4%
Ringgold 62.1% 69.6%
Fort Oglethorpe 71.3% 62.9%
The county had teamed up with public relations students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to create an awareness campaign that included a census egg hunt, bookmarks for local libraries and food distribution events geared toward helping people fill out the census.
When the pandemic hit, all planned in-person events for the county's census push had to be canceled. Only in the last two months were they able to host two food distribution events and a census parade to try and make up for lost time.
"We've just kind of got a late start on getting the word out," Legge said.
Walker is now shooting for a 65% self-response rate, he said. The county is currently at just over 56%.
In neighboring Catoosa County, meanwhile, the self-response rate of 65.8% is currently ranked 10th in the state of 159 counties.
Catoosa County Public Information Officer John Pless said he is proud of how many residents have filled out the census, but he encourages even more to do so on their own as the county continues its own census initiatives including a digital campaign and events similar to those in Walker.
"We're encouraged by our ranking among other counties in the state, but we want to do better," he said. "We want all of our residents to complete the census information. We feel confident that our partners with the census are going to help us with that."
Pless said he believes that population numbers have risen in Catoosa since the last census, and accurately reflecting that in the census responses will likely bring millions more in funding as well as have a bearing on political boundaries.
The 2010 Census showed about 63,942 residents in Catoosa, a number Pless thinks may now be much closer to 70,000.
"That is a lot of money that goes to our infrastructure, bridges, health care facilities, schools and other vital programs," he said of how the census impacts the community's long-term needs.
Most residents have until Aug. 11 to self-respond before census workers begin canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors in an effort to ensure as many households as possible are accounted for.
"If you don't want somebody knocking on your door, the way to make sure that doesn't happen is to go ahead and turn in your [response]," said Legge.
Pless said that efforts are being made to inform citizens about how to identify workers as official census employees and to remind them that it is their constitutional duty to comply with the census.
Georgia is currently ranked 37th in the country in terms of response rate.
Households can now respond to the census online instead of just by mail or by phone. More information can be found at census.gov.
Contact Tierra Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.