In less than five weeks, Wataugans — both residents and college students — will be asked to respond online, by phone or by mail to participate in the 2020 Census.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2020 Census will count every person living in the 50 U.S. states, District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. This is the first census in U.S. history that will allow respondents all three methods by responding online, by phone or by mail to be counted.
Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said it’s important that Watauga County documents an accurate population count. He listed reasons why census data may be used, such as to reapportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, drawing school district boundaries and planning for local government services and infrastructure. The data could also impact highway project funding and fund distribution for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start.
The bureau states when filling out the census for a home, each person who is living at the residence as of April 1 and has no usual home elsewhere should be counted — including any friends or family members who are living and sleeping there most of the time. The agency also asks that roommates, young children, newborns and those renting a space in the home be counted as well.
When counting young children, the bureau stated that all children who live in the home should be counted, including foster children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, the children of friends, newborn babies (even those born on Census Day or who are still in the hospital on the date) and children who split time between homes (if they are living at the residence on Census Day).
“These people are often missed in the census,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “This means they can miss out on resources for themselves and their communities over the next 10 years.”
The census consists of nine questions for one person living in the home with seven more questions for each additional person in the home, Furman said. The bureau stated that a respondent’s answers are kept anonymous and are only used to produce statistics.
“By law, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home or your business, even to law enforcement agencies,” according to the bureau. “That’s protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code.”
According to Furman, North Carolina’s participation rate in 2010 was 76 percent, and Watauga County’s participation rate trailed behind at 71 percent.
By using the bureau’s Response Outreach Area Mapper, Furman said the county can track low count areas. The lowest count area in Watauga is Boone, which Furman attributed to an inaccurate count of Appalachian State University students. He said that students living in Boone as of Census Day should be counted here, and not by their parents elsewhere.
Furman said he had been working with the university and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce to start getting information out to students. According to Furman, App State’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown helped to spread the word to students on campus, landlords and other property owners renting to students off campus about census information.
In mid-March, households will start receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census. From March 30-April 1, the bureau states that workers will count people who are experiencing homelessness by counting people in shelters, soup kitchens and mobile food vans as well as on those the streets and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.
Throughout the month of April, census takers will visit college students living on campus as well as others living among large groups of people such as people living in senior centers. From May through July, workers will visit homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to ensure an accurate count. By December, the Census Bureau states it will deliver apportionment counts to the president and U.S. Congress.