By Julia Purdy
The 2020 Census, delayed as the nation grappled with the Covid-19 crisis, is getting up to speed. The initial phase includes options to file responses electronically using a code that is mailed to households, or to mail a paper questionnaire. Beginning in August, trained census workers will hit the streets to locate tardy or reluctant respondents.
The goal is a “complete count” of population, household by household. A complete count is critical to the accuracy of the results. Data gathered by the 2020 Census will help determine how more than $675 billion in taxpayers’ dollars will be returned to their communities every year for the next decade.
Many of the beneficiaries of the 2020 Census are social programs: Headstart, school lunches, rental subsidies. But there’s much more, in the form of funding for highway planning and construction, public transit systems, emergency management, education grants, food and fuel assistance, funding for fire departments and hospitals, wildlife management, child abuse prevention, natural disaster response, and housing assistance for older qualifying adults.
As of July 1, the national self-response tallied at 61.9% with 91.5 million households responding.
Minnesota was leading the nation with 71.4% and Puerto Rico trailed the pack with 22.9%. States that are sparsely populated and agricultural or forested occupy most of the lowest rankings. This includes Vermont, at No. 47 out of 52 states and territories.
Vermont’s overall self-response rate was 56.4% as of July 1, including 48.3% online responses, with 190,000 Vermont households responding.
Rutland County logged 51.8% overall, 34.6% of which were filed online. Rutland County’s top honors so far (No. 23 out of 237 towns in Vermont) go to Rutland Town with 68.4%, followed by Proctor and Clarendon, both tied in 41st place at 64.1% on July 1.
Mike Klopchin, chair of the Clarendon Select Board since 1990 and a Marine Corps. veteran, told the Mountain Times that town personnel in Clarendon have been “very vocal” encouraging folks to respond to the census. “It’s important to know when people have concerns but more importantly we like to have a general idea of what they are looking to have in our town,” he said. “We consider a lot of things, applying for grants, especially program grants. We have a lot of back roads. Especially lately with the downpours, we are having issues with washouts year after year.”
He noted that U.S. Senators Leahy and Sanders “are big on getting funding for veterans’ needs.”
Speaking for Rutland Town, Select Board Chair Josh Terenzini wrote in an email, “We are pleased with the census participation results so far in Rutland Town. We have made this a focus through our town’s website and social media, to remind everyone to take the census. It’s our civic duty, just like voting!”
Killington Select Board member Jim Haff wrote, “We, the town of Killington, strive for everyone to fill a 2020 Census out, since it means our share of federal and state funding for such things as road funding, health funding. There are so many things that get funded for the next 10 years from this survey I can’t name them all.”
Kim Kinville, a former Chittenden Select Board member, is currently public information officer for the Chittenden Emergency Management Team. She used the Emergency Management Facebook page to remind households to complete the census. Noting that Chittenden ranked among the top five Rutland County towns with a better than 50% return rate, she urged households to “push a little harder, Chittenden … By doing so you’ll help your community in being eligible for federal funds to help with infrastructure, emergency services, education and food assistance.”
Kinville also attached a colorful flyer to the post, issued by the Census Bureau.
Of the state’s 14 counties, the top county on July 1 was Chittenden with 71.3% of households responding, followed by Addison at 62.6%. The bottom spot was held by Essex County with 35.1%.
It is notable that in the town rankings for Vermont, the ski resort towns occupied the lowest rungs for self-responses as of July 1: Stratton 8.1%, Killington 11.9%, Jay 15.8%, Ludlow 21.5%, Dover 16.4%, Warren 21.4%, Wilmington 24.5%. Whitingham, Stowe and Burke rates were slightly better but still far from the state average at 35.3%, 35.5%, and 35.6%, respectively.
With the entire U.S. population responding household by household, the Decennial Census cuts across all demographics: income, education, race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, geographical location and census tract. Personal history, political views, citizenship and religious persuasion are not relevant.
What is relevant is that federal funding can relieve the strain on town budgets while providing for programs and needs that otherwise would not be possible.
It may come as no surprise that the 2010 Census identified Vermont as the most rural state in the union, with 82.6% of Vermonters living in the country or small towns. (In 2012, Maine beat Vermont’s record.) For rural areas in particular, the census identifies needs that otherwise might fall between the cracks.
Census data impacts policies through USDA programs that address the needs of rural education, businesses, and housing. In the 2010 Census, 13.4 million children were counted living in rural areas in the U.S.
The 2020 Census website states, “The 2020 Census will help update that picture, illustrating the number of children across the country, and where exactly they are living. These results can make a direct impact on children’s lives, shaping resources for health insurance programs, hospitals, child care, food assistance, schools, and early childhood development programs.”
To learn more, check out tutorials, interactive maps, webinars, courses, resources – at census.gov/data/academy/data-gems/2020/how-is-your-community-responding-to-the-2020-census
For those interested benefits to rural areas, go to 2020census.gov/en/what-is-2020-census/focus/rural
Anyone interested in delving deeper can go to “Uses of Census Bureau Data in Federal Funds Distribution” (Sept. 2017), at 2020census.gov/content/dam/2020census/materials/partners/2020-01/Uses-of-Census-Bureau-Data-in-Federal-Funds-Distribution.pdf
For rankings updated steadily – 2020census.gov/en/response-rates
For the visually oriented, see census infographics at census.gov/library/visualizations