OUT FOR THE COUNT: Southwest Valley officials spread the word about the census

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Local officials are out to spread the word: make sure you count in 2020.

The country’s decennial census will take place next year and every man, woman and child counts — toward how much state and federal funding a city receives and how much well represented an area is in the state legislature and U.S. Congress.

“It’s very important for our city for people to take the census, because that’s how we account for the population that lives in our city, which then gets reported to the state, and they use those numbers, with a multiplying formula, that gives us state-shared revenue. And the bigger our population, the more state-shared revenue get,” said Litchfield Park City Manager Bill Stephens.

The effort to spread the word about the census has already begun. Local government and educational leaders and volunteers are out to inform residents about the census and make sure they don’t go uncounted.

The U.S. Census Bureau has distributed information to municipalities and school districts to aid in their education outreach. The Maricopa Association of Governments is spearheading most of the efforts in Arizona, coordinating with many municipalities.

Schools can be one of the most important places to educate about the census, because children 5 and younger were the most under-counted group in 2010. The population of Maricopa County is 4.4 million as of July 1, 2018, according to the census. Children under 5 years old make up about 6.3%, or about 280,000. About 10% of children in Arizona were missed in the 2010 census.

The Litchfield Elementary School District is educating its parents through the district website and newsletter, messages from their children’s teachers, social media, face-to-face discussions at parent organization meetings.

“We are excited to help promote the census because the results of that work are so important to our schools, especially our Title 1 schools,” said LESD spokeswoman Shelly Hornback. Six of the district’s 16 schools are Title 1 schools, which receive supplemental federal funding because they have high concentrations of low-income students.

Though many local children 5 and younger are not yet in school, several are enrolled in LESD’s preschools and their parents will receive the district’s educational material. Many parents with children not yet in preschool will still be reached by the district’s educational campaign, Ms. Hornback said.

“We think that we have a lot of parents who follow us on social media because they know eventually they’ll be engaging in our system, and obviously a lot of our students have little siblings at home who aren’t yet enrolled in school, so we will be able to help with that outreach effort in those ways,” she said.

The Census Bureau also plans to advertise to young mothers and grandparents.

To make sure all children are counted, the city of Phoenix launched a campaign called My 1st Census, which is geared toward parents of children under 10 years old, who for the first time will be counted in a decennial census.

In education, census information is used for school attendance projections, boundary determinations and new school construction projections.

Both the Census Bureau and Arizona School Boards Association have provided LESD and other school districts with educational resources about the census.

Both Litchfield Park and Goodyear leaders have been working with MAG on regional efforts. Goodyear City Manager Julie Arendall co-chairs the Regional Census Communication Group with Chandler City Manager Marsha Reed.

Julie Arendall
Julie Arendall

“The region knows how important having a good count is,” Ms. Arendall said. “I mean, we’re one of the fastest-growing regions in the entire nation, and it’s important to get our fair share of bringing home those federal resources to our community.”

The group has representatives from every Maricopa County city and town who have come together to have common messaging and leverage resources. Next year, the group plans to buy ads on billboards, bus stops, in print, on radio and on TV.

Goodyear has also formed its own Complete Count Committee of resident volunteers to lead outreach about the census to the community.

“We solicited just folks that are connected within their own neighborhoods, because, you know it’s one thing if you have the federal government or your state government or your local government communicating a message, and it’s just really helpful when your building trust to hear it from your neighbor,” Ms. Arendall said.

The committee has already attended several community events to talk with residents about the census. In January, the education campaign will go mobile with the committee’s Topics on the Move, or T.O.M. van that allows committee members to easily set up at different events or retail centers.

City Planner Christian Williams, a leader of the committee, said the volunteers donated their time to this cause because they want to ensure the city and local school districts get the funding they need.

“They love this community, and they just want to see it stay beautiful. They want us to be able to keep up with services and have nice amenities,” he said.

This is the first time there will be an option to complete the census online. Other options are to respond by mail or phone. If a household does not respond, a census worker will be sent to knock on the door to try to collect a response. Mr. Williams said the new online capability creates new opportunities and a new convenience for residents.

The Complete Count Committee plans to bring the T.O.M. van to retail centers with an iPad to help residents complete the census on the spot.

“Residents, you know, that might not have internet connectivity or might not be able to access the library as easily as others, they can take that right there with us on the iPad,” he said.

Ms. Hornback said LESD also has a way for parents to take the census online.

“We also have a computer in the front office of every school in our district, so anyone who needs support accessing the website can do that in our schools,” she said.

Aside from children, other under-counted communities include renters, black people and Latino people. Census Bureau analysis found people who rent their homes were under-counted by 1.1% in 2010. Winter visitors should be sure to only be counted at one address. One reason for over-counting can be people who own multiple homes reporting at both of their addresses.

The 2010 census overcounted white, non-Hispanic residents by 0.8% and under-counted 2.1% of the black population.

Local census advertisements will be bought in both English and Spanish. The census is available in 12 non-English languages, including Spanish, and assistance will be available for 59 total languages.

Census takers will not be asked their citizenship status. The Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s request to add the question to the census in the summer.

Mr. Williams said Goodyear’s Complete Count Committee is putting in extra effort to reach out to areas of Goodyear with low response rates in the 2010 census.

All information given to the census is confidential. The Census Bureau cannot share it with any other person, business or government agency. The information cannot be released for 72 years.

Beware of anyone posing as a census worker who isn’t. The easiest way to spot a census worker is by the census bag they’ll be carrying. Goodyear’s Complete Count Committee will be wearing bright yellow vests. If a census worker comes to your door, you can also verify their status by plugging their name and/or badge number in at
census.gov/cgi-bin/main/email.cgi .

Ms. Arendall noted that 23% of Goodyear’s general fund comes from its share of state sales taxes, which are distributed based on population.

“It’s a fast-growing community,” she said of Goodyear, “and we need to make sure that we bring home our fair share of the dollars that should be attributed to us because of that quickly-growing population.”

Mark Carlisle can be reached at mcarlisle@newszap.com or found on Twitter @mwcarlisle.

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