With millions of dollars of federal funding and one of the state’s congressional seats at stake, Mississippi businesses, church and civic organizations are putting forth an unprecedented effort to encourage participation in the U.S. Census.
“The response is overwhelming,” says Shirley Anderson, community partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau in Jackson. “Businesses have been very involved in making it a good Census. We have some politicians saying we aren’t going to get a complete count. I disagree. I think we are going to get one of the best counts that Mississippi has ever seen.”
Starting in mid-March the U.S. Census Bureau began mailing out 98 million Census forms. The 2000 Census has been called “the largest peacetime mobilization effort in U.S. history.”
Anderson believes that the publicity this year prior to the forms being sent out will have the effect of greatly increasing participation.
“I think lack of response in the last Census was due to lack of knowledge about how important this actually is to Mississippi,” Anderson said. “Once the awareness came, the assistance came with it.”
Anderson said businesses have been helping get out the word by posting signs at the workplace, putting notices in employee’s paycheck envelopes or in bills sent to customers, by offering space for Census workers and by holding special promotional activities. Cowboy Maloney in Jackson held a Census Weekend recently giving out Census information at the store and holding a raffle drawing for a big screen television. Jackson Medical Mall has had three Census rallies and radio stations have helped by providing public service announcements.
“Everywhere we have gone they have opened their arms to the Census,” Anderson said. “Churches have really gone out of their way to help. School systems all over the state are involved along with nursing homes, the Extension Service, civic organizations and sororities. Even the Girl Scouts are involved.”
Robert Jamison, government partnership specialist with the Census Bureau in Tupelo, said through the Tupelo Complete Count Committee, businesses have been heavily involved in alerting people to the importance of the Census.
“We have had good cooperation from businesses,” Jamison said. “I have been invited several times to speak to the Community Development Foundation, which includes about 100 businesses in the northern part of the state. They want to make sure we are getting the word out because businesses understand the importance of the Census, especially in manufacturing. The Census questionnaire will alert businesses to how many new homes are going to be built, how much furniture needs to be sold and where the population is moving. Businesses understand the importance of the Census, so that’s why you don’t have the problem getting businesses involved as you do getting other people involved.”
Jamison said another reason why businesses, and Mississippi residents in general, are concerned is that the state is on the “bubble” of losing a congressional seat. Every 10 years when the Census is taken, seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are re-apportioned according to a state’s population. If a state loses population or doesn’t grow as quickly as other states, it can lose congressional seats.
“If we lose a congressional seat, that won’t just hurt businesses but everyone in Mississippi,” Jamison said. “If we get a good count, we will retain five congressional seats in Washington. We need that power in Washington.”
Federal funding is also a big issue. States, counties and cities that aren’t counted properly can lose millions of dollars in federal aid. For example, the City of New York estimates it lost $200 per person due to being undercounted, which totals to millions of dollars each year. Since the results are used for 10 years until the next Census, any mistakes are especially costly. When state, county or city governments lose millions in government programs, the whole community is affected, and that hurts businesses.
About $180 billion in government funding per year is based on Census figures.
“Numbers are everything,” says Karen Kagalis, the government partnership specialist for the Census Bureau for the 12 counties in the southern part of the state. “Without an accurate Census count, the numbers won’t be accurate. Businesses understand the importance of having an accurate count in order to have good demographic information to make decisions such as where and when to expand.”
Kagalis said businesses in the southern part of the state have been helpful through activities such as purchasing promotional materials. Banks are sending out little notes with statements saying, “The Census is coming. Please fill it out.” Media outlets have been giving free or reduced charge public service announcements.
When people don’t respond by filling out a Census form, it is necessary for Census workers to follow up with personal visits to homes in order to obtain the information.
“If folks don’t want a knock on their door, then they should fill out the form, send it back in, and do it quickly because we want to have an accurate count as soon as possible,” Kagalis said.
With unemployment at record low levels, Kagalis said it is a challenge finding qualified applicants to work for the Census. She urged anyone interested in either full-time or part-time work, including veterans, retirees and students, to call 1-888-325-7733. The Census bureau likes to hire local people because they know their neighborhood the best.
During March Census workers in Mississippi have been doing “update-leave” in rural areas. The workers update addresses in rural areas and leave the forms. Many addresses have changed in the past 10 years from rural route numbers to street addresses because of changes in 911 emergency calling programs. Also, rapid growth in some outlying areas means there are a large number of new homes that have been built since the last Census.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.