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The city of Wilson, Wilson County and local service organizations are coordinating to make sure that this year’s census counts all residents.
At stake is about $675 billion in federal funds, grants and support that could be spent on schools, hospitals, roads public works and a full range of important local programs over the next decade.
Getting and accurate count will ensure that Wilson has fair representation when congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn.
Wilson’s population has been climbing slowly from 49,214 in 2010 and was estimated at 49,348 in 2017.
Getting everyone counted could result in a population figure that rises above 50,000, a key mark when businesses look at demographics to determine whether or not to locate in a community.
Rodger Lentz, chief of the Wilson planning and development office, told the city council last week that the goal is to get the most accurate count possible.
Lentz said the city is beginning a public relations campaign, a social media campaign, advertising spots, yard signs and outreach to make residents aware of the importance of getting Wilson counted.
“I can show you a map where the census is predicting based on past results what kind of response rate we can expect in Wilson and there are some census tracts coming from downtown out toward (U.S.) 301 that the census predicts will be some of the worst in the state,” Lentz said.
“We are setting up an event on April 18, down in the 301 area, where we are going to bring in the PAL food truck and some other things and invite everybody out to educate them about the census.”
BENEFITS OF BEING COUNTED
According to Lentz, getting an accurate count on the census benefits Wilson when it comes federal dollars for health care, emergency response, education, school meals, community needs and economic development.
For Wilson County, this includes more than $160 million in Medicaid in 2018, millions in federal dollars to support emergency response services and disaster relief, funds for 9,000 meals a day in Wilson County Schools, $21,382,969 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds in 2018, $4.1 million in child care funding for households in 2019, $430,053 in 2018 for heating costs in the North Carolina Low Income Energy Assistance Program and more.
The official census day is April 1. Local residents will begin receiving census forms in the mail in mid-March.
“When you get that invitation, you can fill that out the day you get it,” Lentz said.
Residents will have an invitation number assigned to their particular address which will needed to complete the form.
This year, for the first time, respondents will be able to fill out surveys online.
“For folks who don’t have a computer, you can call in by phone,” Lentz said.
Lentz said the time period when people will be expected to fill out their census forms is mid-March through May.
“After May is when the census workers are going to begin coming out and knocking on doors,” Lentz said.
Lentz said he hopes that local churches and civic groups will partner in the census gathering operation.
REAL TIME RESPONSE DATA
Lentz said the census will be incorporating a mapping tool that will give current progress on census tracts.
“We are going to be able to see how the response is going, so in real time, if we see a particular census tract has got a horrendous response rate, then we can tell our folks that we are going to focus on this area of the city.”
In the last census people tended to leave their kids out of the census.
“If they are living in your house, it doesn’t matter if they are a relative or not, they count on that census,” Lentz said.
Citizenship doesn’t matter to the census, and there is no question on the census form that asked about citizenship. “If they are in Wilson County, they need to be counted, and the reason is we are providing services to those people in our city and in our county and with that comes federal resources to our community,” Lentz said. “If you don’t fill it out, we don’t know you are there.”
“The area of our city that will be the most problematic from a response rate goes from essentially downtown kind of over to the Five Points area and over towards the Martin Luther King Road corridor,” Lentz said. “That wedge of the city has historically been the worst response rates. That’s where we will be concentrating our efforts in order to get that response rate up.”
Councilman Michael Bell asked about the current population of Wilson.
“Our estimate that we’ve done internally using our building permits and the like is we are somewhere in the 50,700 or 50,800 in our most conservative approach, and we are approaching 51,000 to 52,000 on the most accelerated estimation,” Lentz said. “I am confident based on the building that we have seen in the last two or three years that we are going to be over the 50,000 mark. I would be astounded if the city of Wilson’s population wasn’t over 50,000.”
The U.S. Census 2020 is currently accepting applications for census enumerators.
Jerry Barnes of Wilson, a recruiting assistant with the U.S. Census Bureau, said the bureau is hoping to hire more than 100 people to work Wilson County.
The enumerators will be hired in the next four to six weeks and will be expected to work from mid-April through August.
Enumerators will not go door to door but only be paying visits to residents where census surveys were not returned.
Enumerators will be paid $10.50 per hour and reimbursed 58 cents per mile for mileage.
Applicants must be 18 years of age, must be a U.S. citizen and must have a car and a valid email address.
Applicants will be required to be fingerprinted and to pass background checks.
To apply, go to online to 2020census.gov/jobs.
Barnes said the online application process takes about 15 minutes.
For more information, Barnes can be called 252-291-5675.