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Carroll County census committee leaving ‘no stone unturned,’ with an eye to undercounted groups including children

Federal instructional mailings are expected to go out on March 12 and people will likely be able to complete the U.S. Census online in mid-March, though officially Census Day is April 1.
Federal instructional mailings are expected to go out on March 12 and people will likely be able to complete the U.S. Census online in mid-March, though officially Census Day is April 1. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Certain population groups, such as the homeless, are traditionally underrepresented in the U.S. Census. But even those involved with Carroll County’s Census 2020 effort aren’t exactly sure why children younger than 5 also go underreported.

“I don’t know how people forget little children that they’re taking care of day in and day out, but they’re an undercounted group,” Lynda Eisenberg, the county’s planning director, told the Board of County Commissioners at its most recent meeting.

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Several others involved with the Carroll Counts Census effort also briefed the commissioners at their most recent meeting on what progress has been made, what efforts are ongoing and what citizens can expect in the near future regarding the census.

“Most activities are starting now and will continue for the next few months,” said Don Rowe, the executive director of the nonprofit The Arc Carroll County who is chairing the county’s complete count committee.

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Rowe said that committee, consisting of more than 30 members, has met five times in addition to a training session with Maryland census officials. He said work groups were put together to focus on different populations, “especially those populations that have historically been underrepresented in the census.”

The Constitution mandates the census be taken every 10 years. For the first time, this year, the census is being done online. Federal instructional mailings are expected to go out on March 12 and people will likely be able to complete the U.S. Census online in mid-March, though officially Census Day is April 1.

That’s not only the kickoff date, it’s also the most critical date; wherever someone is living on April 1 is where that person lives for the purposes of the census. That can get confusing for parents. For example, if an adult child is away at college and living in a dormitory, the parents would not count that child as living at home.

Shared custody can also be confusing.

“We have a lot of families where people are divorced and a child stays in a house certain days of the week and then goes to a different house,” Laura Russell, Carroll County’s census coordinator, told the commissioners. "What we keep trying to indicate to people is that it is where that child is on the first of April. So the parent who has that child on the first of April counts that child.

“There’s a lot of different, diverse ways families live today, so we’re emphasizing that you count whoever is physically in your home on that date. So if your mother-in-law is living with you or you are taking care of a grandchild, you need to make sure you are counting them.”

Just as the homeless, those with disabilities and those living in group quarters are among populations that are often undercounted in the census, as are the very young.

"Zero to 5 is a group we’re really working on ... [even though] as Lynda said, it’s hard to think people could forget a squealing baby,” Russell said.

She said hospitals will be putting information about the census into “new baby bags” they send home with the parents of every newborn. Carroll Counts also printed an activities booklet found on the federal census site to be sent out via the BookMobile to some 1,200 preschoolers.

“We’re very creative. We keep coming up with new ways to reach the undercounted populations," Russell said.

Eisenberg said Carroll County applied for and received a $40,000 grant with a $40,000 match, half of which is in-kind, the other half coming from county government. The census group began using that funding July 1, spending much of it on promotional materials such as posters that can be displayed in windows of businesses in high foot traffic areas, banners that will hang from buildings in municipalities, and 80,000 informational cards, 30,000 of which are being sent home with students through Carroll County Public Schools. Some of the materials have been printed in Spanish.

Carroll County Public Library staff will be among those wearing buttons reminding patrons to complete the census and have been trained to assist anyone who comes in to be able to fill out the census, though, obviously, they can’t fill it out for people.

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There will also be a significant presence at senior centers, Chamber of Commerce events and through churches. Carroll County’s Business and Economic Resource Center is holding a census job recruitment event March 5 from 10 am. to 1 p.m. Additionally, Carroll Counts will have a booth at the upcoming Penguin Random House Book Fair at Carroll Community College on March 7, a Celebrating America history event at Westminster High School on March 7 and the Veterans Claims Clinic & Resource Fair, also at CCC, on March 19. At some events, refrigerator magnets will be given out as reminders.

And while the municipalities have sent out information on social media and in mailings such as water bills, county government has a website dedicated to the census, complete with frequently asked questions and video testimonials from community members such as Sheriff Jim DeWees.

“No stone unturned is our philosophy in terms of how we’re trying to reach out,” said Chris Winebrenner, communications manager for Carroll County government and a member of the complete count committee and co-leader of the media promotions group.

The census questions are demographic in nature, focusing on who lives where, race and origin, and so on, with nothing asked about bank accounts, social security numbers or citizenship. Personal identifiable information is not shared with any individual or agency, and U.S. Census Bureau employees take an oath to protect the information they receive.

“It’s safe,” Eisenberg said. “That’s another thing we want to stress.”

Why is an accurate count important?

“It’s used for decision-making purposes and funding for critical areas such as education, housing, transportation, health care and congressional representation,” Eisenberg told the commissioners. “And we’re in a redistricting year, so it’s critical to get the correct count."

Eisenberg quoted a U.S. Census statistic that for every uncounted person, $18,250 over 10 years is withheld in local funding. The federal government allocates $675 billion based on these numbers.

“The overarching goal of the census is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place. The goal of the complete count committee is to get the most complete count as possible for Carroll County,” she said. “A lot of groups are hard to count and hard to reach, so the work groups are working with those organizations that are the trusted voices of these communities and to get the boots on the ground to get the word out.”

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