Larry Johnson sees himself as DeKalb County’s own Paul Revere.
“The census is coming! The census is coming!” the county commissioner said. Johnson’s tone was humorous, but he still understands the underlying seriousness of the issue, as the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to count the nation’s population in 2020.
It’s why he was chosen to lead DeKalb’s “Complete Count Committee,” a group of community leaders who will work to educate residents about the 2020 census and help census workers contact hard-to-reach populations in DeKalb.
“We want to let people know that being a part of this will just build our community,” said Johnson, who represents District 3 in southwest DeKalb County.
Census counts have long-lasting financial implications for communities. The population numbers are used to determine how federal and state funding for services like schools and infrastructure is allocated. Census data is also used to determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress, and how districts are drawn for state and local representation.
PREVIOUS CENSUS COVERAGE:
DeKalb County estimated that in the 2010 census, it had a 72% response rate from residents, and therefore missed out on $275 million in potential funding, the county said in a statement. In 2020, DeKalb hopes to increase the response rate to at least 82% of residents , Johnson said.
“This year is about educating why the census is important,” Johnson said. “It’s about dollars, it’s about bringing home the funding.”
The Census Bureau encourages communities nationwide to start their own complete count committees. DeKalb’s group will partner with others across the county who will advocate for residents to respond to the census, Johnson said. DeKalb’s individual cities, he said, have a better handle on their communities and how to reach areas that have historically had low census response rates.
“These are not government people. These are everyday people,” he said, adding that residents will “open their doors to them faster than they’ll open up their doors to a stranger.”
Outreach will include partnering with faith-based groups, visiting sporting events and going to neighborhood meetings, Johnson said. He hopes response rates will also increase this year because residents will be allowed to respond to the census online for the first time this year — an option to the traditional mail and in-person replies.
Johnson said he is keeping a close eye on whether the 2020 census includes a new question about citizenship. Many worry that undocumented immigrants or their families might be afraid to respond if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the census can ask all Americans if they are citizens. The Census Bureau has estimated 5.8% fewer noncitizens could respond to the census if it includes a citizenship component.
In the case it ends up on the questionnaire, Johnson said the committee would sit down and come up with ways “to help relieve some of those fears” and ensure that the data is kept private.
The DeKalb CEO’s office, each commissioner’s office and each city will appoint a representative to sit on the committee, which is currently forming. The county is also in the process of hiring a manager to oversee the efforts, and the outreach could begin as early as next month.
In other news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.