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Count Everyone Or "We Will Lose:" Cuyahoga County Begins Census 2020 Push

This map shows census tracts predicted to have high non-response rates in next year's Census. [Adrian Ma / ideastream]
This map shows census tract predicted to have high non-response rates in next year's Census. [Adrian Ma / ideastream]

With millions of dollars and political clout potentially at stake, county leaders are launching an effort, dubbed "Cuyahoga Counts," to educate residents about the importance of making sure everyone who lives here gets tallied in the 2020 census.

During a news conference Friday, County Executive Armond Budish said community stakeholders are united around one goal: "To let people know that the census is coming and that it matters." 

"I know we have people who are Democrats and people who are Republicans here," said Budish.  "People from the East Side and people from the West Side. People from Central City ... It doesn't matter. The numbers are what matters."

As part of Cuyahoga Counts, the county has formed a "Complete Count Committee" made up of representatives from various government agencies, faith-based organizations, and community groups like Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the Boys and Girls Club, and United Way of Greater Cleveland.  A big emphasis in the outreach will be on populations that researchers say have traditionally been undercounted, such as immigrants, the homeless, the very young, and the very old.

Budish said that there is a lot at stake.

"We are losing population in Cuyahoga County, we're working to stem that and reverse it." Budish said. "But in the meantime, we have to count everybody that's here or we … we will lose."

One group that's joining the outreach effort is Cleveland Votes, an initiative by the nonprofit Cleveland Neighborhood Progress to increase voter turnout. Although the Census Bureau is legally required to keep personal information, like names and addresses, confidential, "there's still fear about whether or not other departments, throughout the federal government and the local government, will receive that information and perhaps a person feels that they will be penalized in some way," said Erika Anthony, vice president of government relations for Cleveland Votes.

 For that reason, Anthony said, it's imperative to educate people on the ways their information will and won't be used.

The county-wide effort will be organized around 16 volunteer-run subcommittees, each of which will have a slightly different focus. They include: Community/Neighborhood Outreach, Culture, Education, Faith-Based Organizations, Health and Human Services, Higher Education, Youth Outside, Homeless Outreach, Hospitals, Hard to Count Communities, Libraries, Media, Philanthropy, Seniors, Business, and Recruitment. 

The county will coordinate with the City of Cleveland, which has its own census effort. Both are working with the U.S. Census Bureau, which is providing training and educational materials through its Complete Count Committees program.

On May 22, the Census Bureau will hold a training for local organizations on how to do effective outreach. Nada Martinovic, a partnership specialist with the Bureau, is overseeing the training, which will include advice on how to make sure that historically undercounted groups are not overlooked. 

In the case of very young people, such as those under the age of five, Martinovic said they often don't get included because their parents don't think they're old enough to be counted.

"Our motto and message is actually that everyone living on April 1 of 2020 needs to get counted," she said. "So every newborn on the day April 1, 2020 has to be counted."