With Census Day just two months away, state and local officials are boosting efforts to encourage participation in the population count that takes place every 10 years.
Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on Thursday pitched census participation as a financial proposition.
“For each of our neighbors we fail to reach out to, our community loses $20,000 in federal dollars. That’s $20,000 that could otherwise go to programs” in education, public health and parks, Stoney said during the opening of an office in downtown Richmond that will coordinate census efforts.
“Simply put, our city cannot afford to discount anyone.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2010, just 78% of Virginia households mailed back their census forms.
In Richmond, 1 in 5 residents did not mail back their census forms in 2010, with rates as low as 58% in some areas, according to data from the City University of New York Graduate Center in collaboration with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The task for state and local officials is to deliver messages directly to residents about the importance of the census, targeting groups that have been historically undercounted. Those include people of color and immigrants, children under 5, renters and people living in crowded households.
The state will also grapple with a change in how the census is conducted. For the first time, all U.S. residents will be able to fill out their form online through desktop and mobile devices, with the option of mailing a physical form or responding by phone.
“We have been working with a diverse group of partners here in Richmond and around the state to make sure everyone is aware of the census,” and to eliminate any barriers to completing census questions, Northam said Thursday.
In Richmond, for example, librarians are being trained to help people who lack access at home to complete their forms at a public library, Northam said.
In the weeks following April 1, census officials will deploy temporary employees to help account for those who did not fill out online or paper forms. Timothy Maddaloni, a regional census manager, said the federal agency had hired just 66% of the employees it will need for that task in the greater Richmond area. In Richmond, that number is just 50%.
Maddaloni said the jobs start at $15 an hour for a field position.
“We need to have those staff because we know we’re going to have areas of the population that do not respond to the census,” Maddaloni said. “We need a big push quickly, and hopefully we can gain everyone’s support to make that happen.”