Census important to nation's rural areas
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts everyone who lives in the United States and five of its territories.
The census is required by the U.S. Constitution to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives.
The census also provides data for redrawing legislative districts.
The Census Bureau says that responding is important because state, local and federal lawmakers use statistics from the decennial census to help them determine how more than $675 billion in federal funds will be spent every year for the next 10 years.
Funds influenced by census statistics are used for critical infrastructure and public services such as roads and bridges, hospitals and health care clinics, emergency response and schools and education.
The Census Bureau says that its employees take extraordinary measures to reach homes that can be difficult to access in rural and remote areas, whether they are located at the top of a mountain or at the end of a mile-long gravel drive.
Often, rural households do not have typical mailing addresses but use post office boxes in nearby towns.
The Census Bureau does not mail to P.O. boxes. Instead, census takers deliver paper questionnaires to each home in such areas, along with information about options to respond by phone or online, and confirm/record the physical location of the home. In-person follow-ups are made if no response is received.
For a small percentage of addresses (those in very remote areas), census takers will attempt to count people in person at the same time that others are being encouraged to self-respond. This avoids the additional cost of having to revisit these areas during the non-response follow-up period.
For the first time, everyone can respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail. Most people in rural America will receive invitations to respond to the census in the mail.
However, the lack of internet and broadband connectivity poses challenges for much of rural America, the Census Bureau notes.
Only 65 percent of counties where 100 percent of the population is in a rural area have a subscription to any sort of broadband internet, according to Census Bureau statistics.
The Census Bureau reported in December 2018 that 78 percent of the nation’s households subscribe to the internet.
However, the Census Bureau also noted that households in both rural and lower-income counties trail the national average by 13 percent.
Census Bureau statistics for the period of 2013-2107 showed that for area counties, the percentage of households with subscription to any broadband service included:
Jackson and Williamson counties: 65.0 to 74.9 percent.
Union, Johnson and Massac counties: 55.0 to 64.9 percent.
Alexander and Pulaski counties: 0.0 to 54.9 percent.
The Census Bureau said that areas where people are less likely to respond online, approximately 21.8 percent of households, will receive a paper questionnaire along with the invitation to respond online or over the phone.
Areas assigned to receive a paper questionnaire first have a low self-response rate to the Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey, ACS, and have either low internet response rates, high population over age 65, or low rate of internet subscriptions.
Despite challenges, the Census Bureau says that it has several ways to help ensure that every person living in the United States is counted, even those who are hard to reach.
Certain regions of Alaska and areas of a few other states are so remote that they require an operation called Update Enumerate that is different from the standard way the U.S. population is counted.
Areas that are not remote but are still sparsely populated are designated for the Update Leave operation.
People in Puerto Rico and those who live in areas where homes have been damaged or destroyed by natural disasters are also counted this way.
Census takers update the address of affected households and then leave a packet of information that includes the 2020 Census questionnaire.
Many federal programs are aimed at helping people in rural areas, and funding for those programs is often determined by census statistics, the Census Bureau noted.
There are several programs specifically geared toward rural growth, according to the Census Bureau working paper, “Uses of Census Bureau Data in Federal Funds.”
There are also many general programs that focus on rural subsets, like Rural Education and the Department of Justice’s Rural Domestic Violence Assistance programs.
Other important programs informed by census statistics include Water and Waste Disposal Systems for Rural Communities, Rural Business Development Grants, and Rural Housing Preservation Grants.