Happy Census Day!

Today is the day that determines—no matter when you are counted—where you are counted. Wherever you are living as of April 1 (or should be living if we weren’t experiencing a global pandemic) is where you should be counted in the census. 

As of April 1, 33 percent of North Carolinians who were sent census materials in the mail have responded, compared to a national response rate of 36 percent. While not an exact comparison (the metrics for self-reporting have changed), that’s about half of what the state’s participation rate was as of April 7, 2010, when the state reported a 65 percent participation rate, according to state census liaison Bob Coats. 

“In 2010, there wasn’t a pandemic going on at the time, so that’s impacting things,” Coats said Wednesday. “The overall response rate, while it has been affected by COVID-19, has been good. It’s getting to the folks that don’t have internet access or have [language barriers] that’s challenging.” 

The public health crisis forced the state’s census team to push back its schedule to start door-to-door data collection at least until May 28. But you’ll only get a knock on your door if you haven’t already replied by mail, phone, or online. 

Doing that not only means you’re off the hook, but it also protects the safety of the field workers who will be canvassing neighborhoods. Those workers will likely be wearing gloves and masks for protection, Coats says, although an official directive hasn’t yet come from Washington. 

Unless Congress votes to relax the deadline for the census, it must be completed this year regardless of setbacks, Coats says. The next big wave of mailers is set to go out on April 8.

Students who would normally be living in dormitories but have been sent home during the pandemic will be counted by their universities and should not be included in their family’s surveys. Where you respond to the census depends on where you were supposed to be living as of April 1, 2020, in a world without coronavirus. 

“We want everyone to be counted once and only once, and that’s in the right place, and the right place is where you usually are April 1,” Coats says. 

While the population count is necessary to determine the allocation of regular federal and state funds, it will also be crucial in determining the state’s disaster relief.

“Census data was critical in terms of responding to Hurricane Florence, and it’s going to be critical in dealing with the COVID-19 aftermath,” Coats says. 

Learn more about North Carolina’s census by visiting census.nc.gov.

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at ltauss@indyweek.com. 

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