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Keep counting: Carroll County in nation’s top 1% for census self-response, though numbers low in some areas

Carroll County has one of the highest census self-response rates in the nation, and with a little over a month to go before the federal deadline, county officials are hoping that knocking on doors and ice cream socials can help elevate lower-participation parts of the county.

Carroll County had the highest self-response rate in Maryland for the 2020 census, at 79.9%, as of Monday, the most recent data available on the United States Census website Tuesday night. Howard County was second, at 78%, while the state’s collective self-response rate was 68.3%.

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Carroll County is tied for 23rd in the nation for highest response rate out of more than 3,200 counties, putting it in the top 1% as of Monday. Self-response refers to households that completed the census by phone, mail or online. Census-takers come knocking when people have not responded to the census through these means.

Census data affects redistricting, education, welfare programs, transportation, the number of representatives in Congress and more.

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“For every person counted, $1,850 is returned back to the county from the federal government,” Lynda Eisenberg, director of planning for Carroll County, said at the Board of County Commissioners meeting last week.

Although the county has surpassed its 2010 self-response rate — 78.1%, according to census coordinator Laura Russell — the county wants to go further and count in areas, such as New Windsor and Union Bridge, where numbers are lower compared to the rest of the county.

According to the HTC census tracker — run by the CUNY Mapping Service at the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research — as of Tuesday night, Union Bridge’s response rate stood at 66.6%, while New Windsor had attained 72.6%.

Russell suspects these areas have lower counts because many residents use P.O. Boxes.

“Generally, in both areas, town residents only receive their mail through a PO Box,” Russell wrote in an email Tuesday. “The U.S. Census does not mail to a PO Box, so it is our outreach or a U.S. Census enumerator [census-taker] that must count this population.”

To help boost numbers in these areas, the county organized two free ice cream nights at the local fire companies to advertise the census. An ice cream social was planned for Tuesday in New Windsor, and another is planned for Union Bridge on Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the fire department’s parking lot. Masks and social distancing are required, according to an event flyer.

“These two areas were chosen because geographically they’re our lowest-count areas,” Russell said at the commissioners meeting Thursday.

As of Tuesday, New Windsor was not in the bottom two in the county for self-response. The Keysville and Middleburg regions each stood at 70.3%.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat’s district includes the towns of Union Bridge and New Windsor. At Thursday’s meeting, he encouraged his constituents to respond to the census.

“Get out there and complete your census,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the county from hosting other events designed to push the census to the forefront of residents’ minds, Eisenberg said, forcing county staff to think of new ways to reach people.

Russell said the county has taken advantage of partnerships, such as with food distribution sites, to promote the census. The Carroll County Health Department is holding a drive-thru health fair at which census information will be provided. CarrollBaby, an organization that provides supplies to families in need, put census stickers on diapers. Census committee volunteers have racked up more than 600 hours of service, according to Russell.

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If the pandemic wasn’t enough, the county’s deadline to complete counting moved up by one month. The U.S. Census Bureau announced in a news release Aug. 3 that data collection had to be complete by Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31.

“Moving up the deadline has shortened the time that enumerators have in order to meet with people to have them take the Census,” Russell wrote in an email. “Sometimes it takes several visits and some investigation. I have spoken with several seniors who are waiting to have someone bring them a paper questionnaire before they will participate.”

The results of the census will come after the U.S. Census Bureau provides the president with the information, which is required by Dec. 31. Russell said data is expected to be available to the public in April 2021.

More information about the census in Carroll County can be found on the county website.

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