RALEIGH — You won't be able to fill out your 2020 census form for another year, but the public campaign to get you thinking about it got underway Monday.
In a ceremony at the old State Capitol in downtown Raleigh, Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the N.C. Complete Count Commission outlined the importance of counting everyone who lives in the state next April 1. Headed by Machelle Sanders, the secretary of the state Department of Administration, the commission is coordinating state and local efforts to encourage people to respond to the census.
"Good decisions are based on good numbers," Sanders said. "And the decisions that will be made from this census will impact the long-term future of our state. ... A complete count matters."
Every 10 years since 1790, the federal government has counted how many people are in the country and where they live to divvy up membership in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's widely expected that after the 2020 count, North Carolina will pick up a 14th seat in the House, because the state's population is growing faster than other states.
But the numbers are also used in many other ways, most notably in deciding how and where some $675 billion in federal spending is allocated each year. That alone gives state and local governments incentive for making sure everyone gets counted.
"These are tax dollars that we've already paid," said Bob Coats, the governor's census liaison. "So being counted in the census brings your tax dollars back to work in your community."
Much of the early work of the state commission, and of local ones beginning to form around North Carolina, is focused on reaching groups and communities that have historically been under-counted in the census. These include recent immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, members of the military, people living in poverty and children under the age of 5. The goal at this stage is to identify local "trusted voices" who will help overcome any hesitancy people have about filing out the form.
"We know a lot of people don't want to be counted, and that sometimes depending on where they live or what they think, they may not want to fill out a census form," Cooper said. "That's why it's important for this effort to be grassroots. That why it's important to bring in so many diverse organizations to come and help so that we can have all kinds of people reach out to the all kinds of people that we have in North Carolina."
The U.S. Census Bureau is making it easier for people to take part in the census. For the first time, everyone will have the option of filling out the form online, through a link that will be available on computers, tablets and smart phones. That means if someone sees an advertisement or hears from someone encouraging them to fill out the form, they won't have to wait, said Albert Fontenot Jr., associate director for decennial census programs at the U.S. Census Bureau.
"People can respond right then and right there," Fontenot said Monday. "We've not been able to do this before, and we think it's a great opportunity to encourage people to act while census is top of mind."
Fontenot was speaking at a census kickoff event in Washington, D.C., a companion to the one in North Carolina and other states. Census officials there also spoke about the challenge of hiring a half million temporary workers, many of whom will visit households that do not respond to mailings about the census next spring.
The U.S. Census Bureau began recruiting last fall for 50,000 jobs it hopes to fill this summer and has received 230,000 applications so far, said Timothy Olson, the associate director for field operations.
"And though the economy is at a historic period with low unemployment, we are cautiously optimistic that these early recruiting results will bode well when we begin the peak recruiting phase later this fall," Olson said.