A recent survey showed many Wiregrass respondents might not participate in the 2020 Census because they did not understand its importance, among other reasons.
Notably, 43% of all Alabama counties polled indicated the primary factor deterring individuals from completing the census was lack of understanding of its importance or use.
“What this tells us is that regardless of region — whether rural or urban — people need a greater understanding of what’s at stake for Alabama with regard to the census, as education will heavily influence their decision to fill out their forms,” said Kenneth Boswell, Alabama Counts! chairman and director of the state Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
For instance, 41% of respondents believed it would take more than 12 minutes to fill out their census — with 38% reporting they were unsure of the time investment. In reality, there are only 10 questions for a head of household and six per additional person. Ultimately, participation should take five minutes or less, according to Alabama Counts! 2020 Census Committee.
Many respondents also said reasons they might be deterred from completing census surveys were because they are lazy; afraid of deportation, consequences or being found; don’t understand the importance or use of the head count; apathy; do not think it matters; concerned about their privacy; and too busy to complete the count.
The answers are part of research released Jan. 13, by the committee to predict the likelihood of county participation and top motivating factors influencing participation.
In Barbour, Henry, Dale, Coffee, Covington, Houston and Geneva counties, people voted the most encouraging message to get them to contribute was the fact that Alabama could lose up to $13 billion in federal funding without high participation. People also were concerned that census results could bring about the relocation of businesses that could bring about new markets and job opportunities. Many were also motivated to learn that Alabama could lose up to two representatives in Washington, D.C., without high participation.
The research, which surveyed participants from all of Alabama’s 67 counties, was commissioned by Alabama Counts! and conducted by Birmingham-based New South Research.
“It’s important for us to understand each county’s odds of participating in the census as well as accompanying motivations in order to understand how we can increase participation in apathetic areas,” Boswell said.“We can be more intentional in our outreach and education efforts in areas where we see the biggest need.”
Government leaders hope to improve participation from the last census in 2010 where Alabama participation was estimated to be around 60%.
Respondents were grouped into four categories regarding likelihood to participate — extremely likely, very likely, somewhat likely and unlikely.
Participants in Barbour County had the highest percentage of respondents — 80% — who said they were extremely likely or very likely to fill out the form, while Henry and Covington counties had the highest percentage of respondents — both 12% — who said they were unlikely to fill out the form.
Houston and Coffee counties had less than 1% of participants who responded that they were unlikely to fill out the form, but each had 32% respond that they were only somewhat likely.
Alabama Counts! will place a heavy importance on the “somewhat likely” audience in terms of outreach and education efforts.
“People that were ‘somewhat likely’ are the ones on the fence that we need to motivate to be counted. We have to share with them that it’s safe, quick, easy and matters a great deal to their community,” Boswell said.
Counties also were rated based on an overall indifference index, which measures the level of indifference to the census with rankings from seven to 15. Those with residents most likely to not be convinced to participate, no matter the loss or gain, rank lower, while the more conscientious and concerned counties have a higher index. The median value for all Alabama counties was a 10.4.
Ranked from least to most concerned, Wiregrass counties’ indifference indexes are:
» Henry, 7.95.
» Covington, 8.56.
» Geneva, 8.96.
» Coffee, 9.86.
» Houston, 10.52.
» Barbour, 12.2.
» Dale, 12.4.
Hard-to-count populations also were recorded based on how many people surveyed may have real or perceived barriers that could stunt the count or the reach for inclusion in the data-collection process.
The Census Bureau recognizes a range of socio-demographic and other groups as hard-to-count. The following groups, many served or engaged by nonprofit groups, are at risk of being undercounted in the census:
Houston County had the highest percentage of people surveyed living in “hard-to-count neighborhoods.” Research concluded that 78% or 17,525 people live in hard-to-count neighborhoods.
Geneva had no one surveyed living in hard-to-count neighborhoods.
Shift in technology
This marks the first census in American history in which participants can fill out their forms online.
When analyzing the positive or negative effect of moving the census online by county, 67% — 45 of the state’s 67 counties — showed a negative impression.
“There could be many reasons for this, including distrust of providing online personal information or distrust in a new federal method,” Boswell said. “Regardless, people need to know they can still take the census via historically tried-and-true methods.”
Beginning on or around March 13, each Alabama household will receive a postcard from the Census Bureau with instructions for how to complete the head count. Alabamians may respond in three ways — online, telephone or traditional paper form.
Alabama Counts! will continue to ramp-up outreach and education efforts at the state level as the census launch takes place, with a heavy focus through May to encourage residents to self-respond to the census.