Census concerns could cost Nevada County
Special to the Sierra Sun
People can apply to be a census worker at http://www.2020census.gov/jobs, or by calling 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020)
Whether people want more funding for their highway pet projects, better and more affordable housing options, increased school budgets, better health care choices, or to get any idea or project financed, almost all federal funding leads back to being counted accurately during the census.
Administered just once a decade, the U.S. census dictates political apportionment, civil rights enforcement, economic development decision making, social and emergency service planning, and funding for highways, schools, healthcare, affordable housing and economic development.
In 2016 California received more than $115 billion from federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census, according to a George Washington University Institute of Public Policy study. This included more than $55 billions for Medicaid; $7 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; $3 billion in highway planning and construction; $3 billion on housing choice vouchers; $1.7 billion for Title I grants to local education agencies; and nearly half a billion dollars in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding.
In 2017 Nevada County’s share of Title I local education grants represented 0.1% of the state’s total, at $2,202,079. The county got a slice of $6,453,058 — a total amount shared with 10 other counties — in 2017 workforce innovation funding, 2.2% of the state’s total allocation.
However, a Government Accountability Office report released this month detailed potential shortcomings with the 2020 census, set to begin in March, that could adversely affect Nevada County’s ability to be counted and funded accurately.
The report stated the census was put on a high risk list due to being behind in meeting some of its most crucial goals, like recruiting enough workers, ensuring their technology works correctly, and securing respondent data through cybersecurity measures.
Even after increasing the average pay for census workers in December, the bureau failed to meet its February recruiting goals, with 202 of 248 local area census offices falling short of their expectations.
According to Marna Davis, spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau, Nevada County is currently at 93% of its target for recruiting census workers in the area, but that still is not enough as the bureau would like to see more sign-ups than needed to account for drop-offs.
“We need people in Nevada County to sign up for these jobs,” Davis said. “We need more people, we want to be over 100% because we realize some people will drop out of the process, get another job, or move away.”
Davis said local area census offices determine how many workers are needed in the county based on projections from past census data, meaning an inaccuracy or under-count in the county could have ripple effects on subsequent censuses.
“We want people in Nevada County to be enumerators or census takers because they know the community, they know the roads and their neighbors and the community itself,” Davis said. “You’re helping your community to count and getting a complete population count determines hundreds of millions of dollars that your county gets over the next 10 years — this matters.”
But even if the census was working at its best, with a fully-staffed local office and the bureau meeting its operational goals, Nevada County would still face challenges to reporting an accurate count due to its rural population, which is chronically under-counted and under-served.
According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the census has historically excluded communities such as people of color, low-income households, young children, seasonal workers and rural populations at disproportionately high rates, depriving them of equal political representation and access to resources.
Furthermore, the 2020 census will for the first time rely heavily on internet responses to gather data, which may cause issues for rural areas with elderly populations like Nevada County, where many residents may not have access to the World Wide Web. In 2015, the American Community Survey found that more than 20% of rural residents were without a reliable internet connection.
Current census plans call for about 80% of the country, including most of Nevada County, to receive communications that will urge a primary response via the internet.
“The heavy reliance on the internet in the 2020 census may pose a special concern for rural residents,” research from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy found. “Data show that good internet access is less likely to be available in rural areas, and a test that might reveal difficulties with the 2020 census in rural areas has recently been cancelled.”
The 2020 census data, which will also be used to determine eligibility criteria for certain programs, compute formulas that allocate those funds, rank project applications that are based on priorities like population and average area income, set interest rates on federal loan programs, and to allocate Community Development Block Grant funding.
“This is a great job for someone just entering the workforce or for retirees who have extra time on their hands,” Davis said. “People can apply online, interview over the phone and your job offer is given to you over the phone, so you don’t have to go anywhere to start. It’s really easy and we need people now.”
The Census Bureau is now recruiting and hiring census takers in Nevada County for its Non-response Follow Up Operation, which is used to count those who have not completed the self-reported questionnaire after attempts to contact online, by mail and by phone.
People can apply for 2020 census work if they are at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, have a valid Social Security number, email address, access to a vehicle, a valid driver’s license and access to an internet connected computer to complete the training process.
People can apply online at http://www.2020census.gov/jobs to learn more about specific requirements or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020).
John Orona is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.
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