Local Census Response Still Lags Behind – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 10/5/2020 at 2:59pm

The 2020 Census self-response rate in Transylvania County is at 52 percent, 0.7 percentage points behind the previous 2010 census self-response rate, and 11 percentage points behind the state average of 63 percent.

County Manager Jaime Laughter said the census self-response rate is an accurate predictor of the total census response rate, which will not be available until after the census is finished.

The end date for the 2020 Census has endured controversy on the national stage for months, and the latest comes as just last week a federal judge ordered the Census Bureau to tell census workers the count will extend until Oct. 31.

The order came as one of many court battles the Trump Administration has seen with its handling of the 2020 Census. California Federal Judge Lucy Koh issued the new order Thursday, Oct. 1, which came one week after her Sept. 24 order that blocked the Trump Administration’s attempt to end the census on Sept. 30.

In Transylvania County, the count continues. Laughter said an accurate count is imperative for the county to receive adequate funding for both local government and nonprofits that use census data to secure funding.

Laughter said data from a state-run economic impact study found that census information has a $63 million impact in Transylvania County.

“We’re not the best in North Carolina, but were not the worst either (in terms of response rates), but I think the important part is the more accurate that number is, the more accurate the funding that we are eligible to receive will come back to serve the community,” Laughter said. “And that gets at roads, it gets at funding for infrastructure, for water and sewer. All kinds of different funding streams are going to use census data, and not just the population numbers but also income. Some of that detailed information really factors into what kind of funding our community would receive. If we’re undercounted, and someone else is counted as accurate, they’re going to see a better share because part of ours will go somewhere else.”

An accurate census count is invaluable, as Laughter said census data informs countless government agencies and local nonprofits.

For example, Laughter said, someone seeking grant funding for an early childhood initiative wants to be able to accurately report how many children, and their age, there are in the community.

She said census data can help inform the county how to reach its constituents.

If the census shows there is a high population of Spanish-speaking individuals in the community, for example, the county will know to put out information in both Spanish and English.

Another incentive is the Dogwood Health Trust’s offer to Western North Carolina counties that will receive $1,000 for each percentage point of improvement for response rates compared to 2010 numbers.

Dogwood has also provided funding to the county to increase its census advertising effort, plus additional funding to nonprofits if they help folks fill out their census.

Earlier in the year, many local governments across the country raised the alarm at the census response rates, as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the bureau’s strategies to reach residents at in-person gatherings, with more people staying home and some not having access to the internet.

Now, the current self-response rate shows numbers close to what the self-response rate was in 2010.

Compared to neighboring counties, Transylvania County’s self-response rates are in the middle.

Both Henderson and Buncombe are showing better self-response rates at 65.7 percent and 63.7 percent, respectively. Haywood is closer to Transylvania at 56.9 percent, and Jackson trails far behind at just 36.5 percent.

Laughter said the 2020 data will provide crucial information over the next 10 years as the county demographics change.

“A community in 2020 can change a lot before 2030,” she said. “You can see migration patterns really impact. Right now, we’re seeing a huge change because we’re seeing people want to come away from the urban areas, and we’re seeing a lot of demand for folks wanting to move here. A community wants to see that census at the decade mark. It’s hard to know for sure how that population has changed until the next census. And the further you get away from it, the trickier the estimates that are conducted can tell you truly about what the community looks like. So, all of us will be watching really closely.”


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