Alabama is still behind pace in its participation in the 2020 census, and one state official is making the rounds of local media to try to get out the word.
"COVID has had an impact on our response rate, and we need help," said Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Boswell in recent weeks has been talking to media outlets and chambers of commerce across the state about Alabama’s low rate of participation in the census this year. Publicity around the mail-in version of the Census typically peaks around Census Day, April 1. Statewide, only 59 percent of households have filled out the census, while state officials have been pushing for a response rate above 70 percent.
At stake in the count, officials say, is federal grant money communities will lose if they’re undercounted. Even with strong participation, there's a chance the state could lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives because Alabama's population hasn't grown as fast as some other states.
As of Tuesday, 61 percent of Calhoun County households have responded, Boswell said, a little higher than the state rate. In Oxford, participation is at 66 percent; in Piedmont, 61 percent; Jacksonville and Anniston are at 57 percent.
Jacksonville's student-heavy northwest side and the high-poverty neighborhoods of western Anniston have long had the lowest participation rates in the county, and numbers on Tuesday show only about a third of people in those census tracts have responded.
Across the state, rural and poor communities have the lowest rates of participation. In sparsely populated Coosa County, for instance, 34 percent of households have filled out a form, according to Boswell's numbers.
Before the pandemic, state officials had planned to reach out to those communities with public events and by outreach to churches. The pandemic canceled much of that plan.
“One of our drawbacks is that churches aren't meeting right now,” Boswell said.
Door-to-door census-takers have yet to hit the streets in large numbers, Boswell said. Some were sent out to hang census information on residents' doorknobs. Others are training in the use of personal protective gear. Boswell said the door-to-door count will likely begin in earnest in mid-August.
“We're in a quagmire,” Boswell said of the wait.
People who have internet access can fill out the census online, Boswell said.
It's available at 2020census.gov.