Every person counted: Shelby County gets ready for 2020 Census

PELHAM – A team of local leaders gathered at the Shelby County Services building on Tuesday, April 23, to discuss the U.S. Census Bureau’s upcoming 2020 count and the different ways they can play a role encouraging residents to take part in it.

The mission of the county’s 65-member Complete Count Committee is to educate, engage and encourage participation in the Census, said U.S. Census Bureau representative Carletta Singleton.

In 2010, the Shelby County and two other counties logged the highest Census participation in the state with 80 percent of people taking part. This time around, county leaders have set a goal to have 90 percent participation.

The Census will be easier to complete than ever before because residents will be able to complete the form online. Residents will still be able to complete the task by phone and by mail. The county’s 13 libraries are also offering up their services to anyone who needs help complete the Census.

All 13 libraries have agreed to waive the requirement of needing a library card to use computers and will allow residents to use their computers to complete the Census even if they owe money to the library.

Singleton said there are sometimes misconceptions about the Census process. Census data is confidential and residents’ information is not shared with any other branch of government or department. The Census Bureau also cannot receive information about residents from other government departments. Violating privacy laws could result in up to five years in jail and fines up to $250,000.

County engineer Randy Cole said counting each person is vital because population helps decide the county’s portion of gas tax revenue.

“Counties that are getting bigger will get more gas tax money, and those that are getting smaller will lose money,” Cole said.

Cole said gas tax money can only be used for concrete, bridges, asphalt, roads and anything else related to roadways and bridges. With 45 bridges that are more than 50 years old, Cole said the county is in need of gas tax money.

“We have several that are functionally deficient,” he said.

Each resident counted is worth about $1,567 in federal and state funds that are allocated based on population. Singleton said the Census helps direct more than $675 billion in federal funding. Census data is used by businesses, government entities and civic groups to help guide decision making.

Various think tank organizations have projected that Alabama will lose a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 count, but leaders in Shelby County are determined to do their part to help prevent that from happening.

Historically, certain populations have proved difficult to count, Singleton said. People who fall into the “hard to count” category include children under 5 years old, veterans, people with disabilities, the homeless, those living in rural areas, low income and underserved people, senior citizens, migrant farm workers, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, renters and those living in gated communities.

Singleton said undercounting children is a problem because children can have so many different living situations.

“The child could be back and forth between homes, in foster care, living with a grandparent or another relative,” she said. “The Birmingham metropolitan area is third in the nation for single parent homes – third in the nation. It’s important that they be counted too because there are government funded programs like Medicaid, head start programs and the foster care system that use data from the Census to allocate funds.”

Singleton urged the group to begin thinking about Shelby County specifically and come up with a plan to reach those who are hard to count.

At the group’s next meeting, Shelby County’s community services manager Reggie Holloway said the group will begin looking at possible funding sources so that a budget can be created to help with advertising.

The U.S. Census Bureau also needs to hire about 1,300 people to help perform Census-related work in Shelby County. So far, less than 300 people have been hired, said Emma Duncan, a recruiter with the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census jobs will pay $18 per hour, and offer paid training and mileage reimbursement. To be eligible for the jobs, applicants must be at least 18 years old, be a United States citizen, have a valid Social Security number, be able to pass a background check and have reliable transportation, Duncan said. Those interested in applying for the jobs should visit 2020census.gov/jobs.