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U.S. Census Director In Elyria Encouraging Survey Participation

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham (L) and Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield (R) discussed efforts to reach every demographic during the 2020 U.S. Census. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham (L) and Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield (R) in front of a slide reading United States Census 2020

As work begins on the 2020 U.S. Census, Ohio officials are looking for ways to count populations that are historically difficult to reach, said U.S. Census Bureau officials at a town hall in Elyria on Friday.

The census aims to document every person living in the country and collect information including race, gender and age. But officials have difficulty collecting that information with certain groups, including young children, immigrants and the homeless.

The 2020 Census results will have implications on political representation and federal funding over the next decade. The new population numbers will determine how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are divided up among the states, as well as how voting districts are redrawn. The information also guides how an estimated $880 billion a year in federal tax dollars are distributed for schools, Medicaid and other public services.

The 2020 census has an advantage, said U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, particularly for reaching the homeless population: improvements to technology.

“We actually can take laptops and take phones and go directly into those communities, wherever they are staying, wherever there is an event,” Dillingham said.

The Census Bureau is also relying on trusted community voices, Dillingham said, like nonprofit workers and faith leaders. The goal is for those recognizable community leaders to convey that the census is safe, confidential and necessary, he said.

“It’s the trusted voices from the local communities and from the leadership of those communities that makes a difference,” he said.

A controversial question seeking to determine immigrants’ legal status did not make it onto the 2020 Census, Dillingham said. And the bureau has a strong record of protecting individual information, he said, releasing only aggregate, statistical data once the census is complete.

Lorain County and Elyria leaders, including Mayor Frank Whitfield reinforce the federal representatives’ messages Friday.

“Not only are you pushing it, but you’ve got us as a city pushing it, you’ve got nonprofits who are already connected to these populations who are also pushing that message as well,” Whitfield said.

Residents are more likely to trust the census if it comes from faith leaders and community members they already know and trust, said Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy. That can make the process of answering survey questions more comfortable for people who may not trust government officials, he said.

“You feel a lot more comfortable when you’re connecting with people in your church,” Lundy said. “You feel a lot more comfortable when you’re connecting with people that you see on a regular basis through a social service agency.”

Ongoing efforts also include Complete Count committees at the county and state levels. The volunteer committees aim to motivate communities to participate in the census, according to Ohio Complete Count Chair Lydia Mihalik.

“These Complete Count committees are so vitally important because they’re the ones that help carry the message into those communities about how the census is safe, it’s easy and it’s important,” Mihalik said.

The 2020 Census is currently underway.