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Report Shows Rural Missourians Hesitant To Participate In 2020 Census

A U.S. Census Bureau representative goes door-to-door to conduct a non-response follow up. 11/22/19
U.S. Census Bureau

Some rural Missourians say they don’t want to participate in the upcoming census because they don’t have time, they don’t trust the government or they’re worried about privacy, according to a report from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The foundation is trying to increase rural participation, explaining that Missouri could lose nearly $1,300 in federal funding for each person who’s not counted. Researchers found that a lack of understanding regarding the process and purpose for conducting the census is a major barrier to participation. 

“The census has such a far-reaching impact,” said Ellisa Johnson, a spokesperson at the regional Census Bureau in Chicago. “We want to make sure that residents understand that they have a voice when it comes to how much funding is coming to their community.”

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the federal census every 10 years to count the population. Population data is used to reapportion congressional seats and determine the distribution of federal money. 

An undercount could result in less funding for needs in Missouri such as Medicaid, the Highway Planning and Construction program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

By April 1, census officials will mail census invitations to 95% of households and send representatives to the other 5% in areas with low broadband access or nontraditional mailboxes, which often means rural areas, Johnson said.

The Missouri Foundation for Health worked with Benenson Strategy Group in August to survey 836 Missourians living outside of metropolitan areas. 

They found that 62% remembered being counted in a past census and said they are very likely to participate again. The report serves as a resource for improving outreach efforts among the rest who are less likely to participate, said Alex Rankin, the foundation’s government affairs manager.

Missouri had a 74% participation rate for the 2010 census, meaning that’s the percentage of people who responded to invitations by mail or phone, Johnson said. 

The law requires people to be counted, so those who do not respond can expect a census official to follow up in person. Johnson said the more people respond on their own, the more accurate the count will be. 

Rankin said the foundation focused on Missouri’s rural population because its researchers think national outreach has been targeted more toward the urban population, and those living in rural populations are often more difficult to count. She said people in rural communities often feel left out of the benefits that come from federal money.

“When we talk about the resources that are created and distributed as a result of the census, we need to make sure that we are really including rural communities and having them understand that this is how we can get resources for their communities, their neighborhoods and their infrastructure,” Rankin said.

Next year’s census will be the first decennial census to allow online response, which is expected to increase participation among those groups. 

Rankin said she hopes the report will help advocates like church leaders and community action agencies raise awareness in their communities. 

“What's important is that we engage those trusted voices within communities to do some of this outreach to really raise the profile of the 2020 census for their own communities,” Rankin said.

Follow Andrea Smith on Twitter: @andr3afaith

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