April 7, 2010 | Salisbury Post | Original Article

Census participation behind 2000 levels Bookmark and Share

Rowan County's participation rate in the 2010 Census is higher than the national average, but it still lags behind 2000 levels.

According to U.S. Census Bureau numbers Tuesday, Rowan County has a 64 percent mail participation rate, compared to a 70 percent rate 10 years ago. The rate for North Carolina is also 64 percent, and the national rate sits slightly lower at 62 percent.

A new way of calculating the mail participation rate in 2010 disregards forms that are returned as undeliverable.

"The Census recognizes that with the poor economy, there may be lot of homes that are simply vacant," said Kathryn Clifton, geographic information systems (GIS) coordinator with the city of Salisbury. "That gives you slightly higher response rate."

Census officials still will check these homes as they visit households who haven't returned forms, she said. During their visits, which typically begin in late April or May, Census takers personally will record the answers to the form questions.

"Go ahead and send it back, and that will ensure that a federal employee does not come knocking on your door," Clifton said.

Mailing back the 10-question form also helps reduce the estimated $2.7 billion cost of household visits this year.

According to the Census Bureau, every percentage point increase in the national participation rate by mail saves about $85 million. It costs the government just 42 cents to receive a form by mail, but it costs an average of $57 to count a household that does not mail it back.

Landis, which holds the highest participation rate so far at 67 percent, also led the way 10 years ago with an 80 percent rate. The municipality with the lowest participation in 2010 and 2000 is East Spencer — with rates of 35 and 40 percent, respectively.

Areas with large minority populations like East Spencer tend to have lower Census participation rates, Clifton said.

In Hispanic communities, she said, some fear the government may find and deport them. The form does not ask if respondents are living in the country illegally, and answers cannot be used against the respondent by any government agency or court.

Clifton said some people who do intend to return their forms may become so busy that they forget or put it off.

"People may be working more than two jobs, or they might have kids or church activities or something that's just pulling them away," Clifton said. "Sitting down for 10 minutes to fill out a Census form just doesn't rise to the top of the list, unfortunately."

Clifton said an accurate Census count will help ensure that local residents get services they need. Not only do Census numbers determine state representation in the U.S. Congress, they also affect local decisions like where to place transit routes. In addition, governing bodies and non-profit groups use Census numbers when applying for grants.

"It's really important that they send their form back, so that our community gets its slice of $400 billion that we're looking at from the federal government," Clifton said.

Participation in the 2010 Census is required by law, but the Census Bureau uses education rather than criminal charges to get people to participate.

Three "Family Fun and the Census" events will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday in Salisbury, Spencer and Rockwell.

"It's an opportunity for people to come out and get some Census-related material... and get some information on why the Census is important to the community," she said. "Maybe they haven't returned [the form] because they've got a couple questions, and there will be people on hand who can answer some of those questions."

At the East Rowan YMCA, located at 790 Crescent Road in Rockwell, visitors can play various games, including basketball and "corn hole." Hall Gym, located at 1400 W. Bank St. in Salisbury, also will offer family games.

The N.C. Transportation Museum, located at 411 S. Salisbury Ave. in Spencer, will feature a a Thomas and Friends Play Day and an antique tractors and trains show.

To pick up a form, local residents can visit "Be Counted" sites, which are located in the Rowan Public Library South branch in China Grove, Salisbury City Hall and Landis Town Hall.

Questionnaire Assistance Sites, where local residents can get help filling out the forms, are located in the Rowan Public Library Main branch in Salisbury, the Rowan County Public Library East branch in Rockwell, Granite Quarry Town Hall and the East Spencer Housing Authority. Sites in Salisbury are located at Rowan Helping Ministries, RuftyHolmes Senior Center and Smart Start Rowan.