Clayton leaders held a virtual town hall last week to discuss the county’s census 2020 efforts. PHOTO: LEON STAFFORD/AJC

Clayton using schools, minority voices to boost census participation

Clayton is hoping to boost its census response rates — currently the lowest in metro Atlanta — with on-the-ground efforts from the county school system, the inclusion of Asian and Latino students as ambassadors, and reassurances that the information won’t be used against individuals.

Clayton Schools is including information about filling out census forms with the hundreds of meals it serves daily at sites throughout the south metro community because of coronavirus. And Clayton County leaders emphasized during a town hall last week that information collected through the census can not be used to identify peoples’ immigration status.

“We don’t share it with local police, we don’t share it with ICE, we don’t share it with the FBI, not even with the president of the United States,” said Tim Carter, a partnership specialist with the census bureau.

The push is Clayton’s attempt at securing a larger portion of the $675 billion in federal funding tied to the national head count that happens every 10 years. The money is used by local governments to pay for everything from public safety and roads to job training programs and subsidized daycare.

But outreach efforts have struggled to reach a wide audience as COVID-19 shut down shopping malls, meetings and census promotional events. That outreach is thought to be critical in Clayton, where 60 percent of residents live in hard-to-reach communities — one of the highest such populations in the state, according to a Georgia census profile.

And as the census form has moved online, about one-fifth of county residents don’t have access to the internet in their homes or are limited to dial-up connections.

Clayton had a response rate of 51.9%, according to Tuesday afternoon census figures. That is the lowest in metro Atlanta. About 71.3% of Clayton residents mailed back census forms in 2010.

Elite Scholars Academy students Tiffany Pham and Evelyn Tello spoke of the importance of completing the census during the town hall, speaking directly to their communities in Vietnamese and Spanish respectively.

“I know a big barrier is translation and the census website does have the Vietnamese translation,” Pham said. “This funding is essential to the programs that run our county. We really want to ask everyone to reach out to 10 people that you know.”

Cathy Yang Liu, a professor and chairwoman of the department of public management and policy at Georgia State University, said minority communities are often undercounted and the change to an online census instead of the traditional paper questionnaire has already presented more difficulties for those who don’t have access to computers or the internet.

Add to that concerns of exposure among those who are not legal residents and it’s easy to see how the vote can come up short, she said.

“It is critical to assure respondents that this information is confidential,” she said.

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