The U.S. Census is fast approaching and Athens County is gearing up to improve upon below average self-response rates from the last census in 2010.
The Athens County Commissioners approved the creation of the Complete Count Committee (CCC) in June to ensure every citizen in the county is aware of their responsibility to complete the census and increase the amount of people who self-respond.
The U.S. Census, which takes place every 10 years, helps determine funding for cities, states and government programs. It determines how state and federal legislative districts are drawn and how many representatives each state has. It also gives a clear picture of what our country’s demographics look like.
Athens County experienced a 71% self-response rate in 2010 compared to the national average of 79% according to County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, who was named chairperson of the CCC. The United States Census Bureau’s Response Outreach Area Mapper said that parts of Uptown Athens had a self-response rate of 31 percent.
Chmiel said improving upon the countywide numbers from 2010 starts in areas like Uptown Athens where a large population of students live in off-campus housing. Improving this rate can help lead to a more accurate count and reduce the amount of money spent on the labor required to achieve a complete count.
He attributes this lack of self-response by students to the fact that many don’t know they need to fill it out in Athens, not at the address of their parent or guardian.
“If you're spending more than 50 percent of the time in Athens, you want to fill it out for Athens,” Chmiel said.
Another reason students don’t respond is that they fear the population of their house could violate city code, Chmiel said. This fear is unfounded because all U.S. Census records are confidential for the individual and are not sent to the city code office.
Improving the low rate of self responses in Uptown Athens is something the CCC, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and members of the Ohio University Student Senate like Maddie Kramer are all seeking to address.
“I am very excited to work with the city of Athens regarding the 2020 census. Many students do not know they need to respond to the census in Athens and assume their parents do it for them in their hometown,“ Kramer, Governmental Affairs Commissioner for Student Senate, said in a statement.
Kramer said she doesn’t have any specifics on her work with Mayor Patterson but she may have an announcement and a bill to propose in the coming weeks.
Chmiel said he hopes OU can put out messaging or reach out to students who live off campus to encourage them to complete the census when it is put out.
Addressing student self-response rates isn’t the only goal of the CCC prior to the U.S. Census next year. The CCC hopes to implement new technology to encourage higher self-response and to address other populations such as the homeless, children 4 years old or younger and people at or below the poverty line.
The CCC, which meets once a month, has set up 17 subcommittees dealing with involving businesses in the count, utilizing new innovative technology and reaching out to certain demographics like ex-offenders, the homeless, immigrants, senior citizens and veterans.
The 2020 U.S. Census will be the first in history to accept responses online and by phone. Responders can still choose to complete the census by mail.
“This census is different than any other census which has ever been done because of the technological changes that they are trying to implement,” Chmiel said.
The Athens County CCC is hoping to implement some of these changes into its localized efforts by exploring geotagging and other means to remind people to complete their census and get out information to the public.
The public can begin responding to the 2020 U.S. Census online at 2020census.gov in March 2020. Starting in June 2020, census takers go door-to-door to count people who did not self-respond.