Elected officials in Winston-Salem made a public appeal on Wednesday for people to get themselves counted in the 2020 Census, saying they're worried that an undercount could cost the city in political representation and the distribution of federal dollars.
The U.S. Census Bureau wraps up data collection operations on Wednesday, giving residents who have not been counted just six days to weigh in.
And the statistics show the Winston-Salem area is lagging behind many other parts of the country.
"We are urging people and imploring people to fill out the Census form," Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said, in a morning news conference in front of City Hall attended by several members of the Winston-Salem City Council.
The Census is used to determine the number of representatives the state has in Congress, and is also used by state and local governments to reapportion their elected assemblies to ensure equal representation.
Census results also determine the flow of billions of dollars allocated each year by the federal government to units of local government based on their population.
The Census can be filled out online for the first time this year, leading Council Member D.D. Adams to comment on how simple the process is:
"It only takes 10 minutes, 10 questions, for 10 years of significant impact," Adams said. "If you don't know how to do it, call your grandchildren, your children, your friends, your neighbors, call the number ... I need you to go online and do that, you can do it on your phone, your computer or on the telephone."
Although 96% of households across the country have been counted, in North Carolina only 93% have been counted.
The Census starts with self-reporting by residents, then follows up with interviews in households where the residents have not responded. This year, for the first time, people can go online and respond to the census that way.
In Winston-Salem, 61% of households have self-responded to the Census, compared to 68% who self-responded in 2010. In Forsyth County the self-response rate is currently 65%, compared to 69% when counting was complete in 2010.
In the measure of following up with households that did not respond, the area is lagging as well:
The Census Bureau said that in the 14-county region around Winston-Salem, 81% of its workload of non-responding households had been dealt with, compared to 88% in the Raleigh area and 86% in the area around Charlotte.
City officials said they've spent more than $65,000 in an effort to get out the word about the importance of taking part in the Census. The city designated $50,000 for its effort from the budget, and it has also received grants being applied to complete the count.
According to the Census Bureau, neighborhoods in Winston-Salem with large minority populations are less likely to self-report Census information.
To make sure that data is captured, the city has taken steps to also emphasize the importance of the Census in Hispanic communities, where people are often skeptical of interacting with government officials because of citizenship status.
The city and county have had a complete count committee working to get out the word, Mayor Allen Joines said Wednesday.
"We have had a number of strategies, including putting signs on our buses, on our sanitation vehicles, on bus stops — anyway we can get the word out reminding people of the Census," Joines said. "We have had our staff fully informed about it, every chance they get to talk to citizens."
Adams said the city's effort has also including hiring consultants to help the city make its final push.
"Last week, we decided all hands on deck for the city," Adams said, adding that grassroots citizen groups have been enlisted to help make sure everyone is counted.
"Black and brown people, children, elderly people, homeless people and veterans are among the most undercounted in our country," Adams said. "We are doing all we can to make the push to get them counted."
Joines noted that North Carolina could gain a 14th seat in the U.S. House.
"We are below where we were in 2010, no question," Joines said. "There are certain areas of the country where a 95% response rate is there. That is why we are pushing hard."
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