It’s April Fools Day, but this is no joke. According to a statement from Gov. Kay Ivey, if Alabama’s count in the 2020 Census falls shy of the 72 percent participation rate recorded in the 2010, “the state would likely experience reduced representation in Congress, the loss of millions of dollars in Census-derived community funding, and reduced economic development opportunities.”
April 1 is also Census Day, and Ivey’s statement today reiterated warnings elected officials and policymakers have been sounding for almost a year. But officials are more concerned now, as the COVID-19 pandemic may distract some from participating. But ironically, the state’s long-term economic recovery from the crisis may very well depend on its representation in the Census.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of state representation on a national level. If we lose a representative due to a low Census count, that would mean one less voice advocating for Alabama’s needs during critical times in the future,” Ivey wrote.
Similarly, Kenneth Boswell, chairman and director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and chairman of the state’s Census effort, said, “though the hearts and minds of Alabamians rests on the unprecedented health emergency we are currently battling, we must remember that our Census results are vital to our collective future.”
Boswell also emphasized that responding now will minimize the need for the Census Bureau to send Census takers out into communities to follow up door-to-door once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
As the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) noted in a report published last week, the self-response rate, sometimes called the initial response rate, is the percentage of households that respond to the initial request to participate. It does not indicate the total percentage of households counted. Households that do not respond to this initial request receive additional requests and, ultimately, a knock on the door from a Census worker.
According to the data through March 31, roughly 39.4 percent of Alabamians have self-responded to the Census online or by mail, which is 1 percent above the national average. But the Baldwin County response rate sits below both averages at 34 percent, while Mobile County is about on par with the national average at 38.6 percent.
Among municipalities in the two counties, Satsuma (population 6,154 in 2017) currently has the highest response rate at 49.6 percent, while Orange Beach (population 6,029 in 2017) currently has the lowest response rate at 10.2 percent. Coastal communities including Dauphin Island and Gulf Shores have similarly low rates of 12.7 percent and 21.3 percent, respectively.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said today he was surprised to hear of the low response rate in his town of 1,269 people, but it could be due to the number of non-residents who own property along the beach.
“We’ve talked about the Census in our monthly Town Crier and sent out mass emails about it, so we’ve been very proactive in our community, but whether or not that yields results that’s a whole other thing,” he said, while noting he’d send another email today after he learned of the low results. “I even went up to Montgomery when the governor had the Census kickoff campaign, and I feel good that the town has been very supportive and encouraging of the effort. I filled mine out and it only takes four or five minutes.”
Collier said based on his own estimates, he expects the town to gain 200-300 permanent residents in the 2020 Census, which has been evidenced by a “tremendous surge in new homes” over the past few years. He also said the island is dependent upon accurate Census numbers for federal funding, which is not limited to projects like road construction and beach nourishment.
Alabamians can participate in the 10-question Census online at www.my2020Census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form — all without coming into contact with a Census taker. All participants’ information is protected by strict federal law.
Due to COVID-19, the U.S. Census Bureau has formally announced adjustments to its original Census 2020 timeline, and Gov. Ivey and Chairman Boswell are in close contact with representatives monitoring the situation daily.
Additional information on Census 2020, Alabama-specific statistics, local community resources and Alabama Counts! campaign assets can be found at census.Alabama.Gov.
CENSUS RESPONSES BY CITY AS OF MARCH 31:
Bay Minette: 39.1 percent
Daphne: 43.6 percent
Elberta: 30.1 percent
Fairhope: 45.3 percent
Foley: 47.2 percent
Gulf Shores: 21.3 percent
Loxley: 40.2 percent
Magnolia Springs: 37.9 percent
Orange Beach: 10.2 percent
Perdido Beach: 37.3 percent
Robertsdale: 41 percent
Silverhill: 23.1 percent
Spanish Fort: 36.7 percent
Summerdale: 46 percent
Bayou La Batre: 31.8 percent
Creola: 33.4 percent
Dauphin Island: 12.7 percent
Mobile: 41.3 percent
Mount Vernon: 29.9 percent
Saraland: 43.9 percent
Satsuma: 49.6 percent
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