We’ve used this space several times in 2020 to encourage Carroll countians to participate in the census, the once-a-decade nationwide count of the United States' population. Getting an accurate count is important because so much federal funding is dependent upon how many people live in a certain area. The figure has been cited repeatedly, but it’s worth mentioning one last time: Carroll will receive some $18,500 over the next 10 years for each person counted.
“It’s used for decision-making purposes and funding for critical areas such as education, housing, transportation, health care and congressional representation,” Lynda Eisenberg, the county’s planning director, said in the spring. “And we’re in a redistricting year, so it’s critical to get the correct count.”
The coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 a particularly challenging time to conduct the census, which was moved online this year for the first time. Plans had been made to provide assistance at library branches and senior centers that were closed down before the census began and at usually jam-packed events that had to be canceled.
Still, with two weeks remaining to complete the census, Carroll County residents have really come through.
As of the end of last week, Carroll ranked first among Maryland counties and in the top 1% (24th place) among counties throughout the country with a self-response rate of 81.1%. Many simply understand that completing the census is a civic duty, but a pretty high percentage needed some prodding, reminding and assuring that filling it out was safe and secure.
That so many ultimately went online and filled out the census is largely thanks to the efforts of Carroll’s complete count committee, which brought a great deal of awareness about the importance of the census and has employed “out-of-the-box” thinking to reach out to groups that are often underrepresented. In August, that meant holding events in some of the county’s municipalities that had lower self-reporting rates, perhaps having to do with less access to broadband internet or a lower percentage of home mailing addresses.
On Sunday, that meant an ice cream social at Dutterer Family Park in Westminster designed to reach out to the Latino community, a population that has traditionally been among the least-counted communities — children in particular — according to Laura Russell, Carroll’s census coordinator. The Latino population represented 3.9% of the county’s population as of July 2019, Russell said.
Masks, hand sanitizer, buttons, children’s activity books and census materials covered a table at the event. And, of course, there was an ice cream truck from The Cow, with free ice cream providing an ample incentive for completing the census.
The language barrier is one reason the Latino community fills out the census at a much lower rate than the general population, so it only made sense to have bilingual volunteers — some of whom were students at Gerstell Academy — helping Spanish-speaking residents both in terms of translating and reassuring.
Westminster resident Elena Hartley was one such volunteer, who helped people complete the census on iPads. She said some were nervous about taking the census and were reluctant to provide personal information. “They hesitate a little bit because they’re telling about their life,” Hartley said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing that’s going against you.’”
By the end of the two-hour event, roughly 25 people completed the census. And just like, another $450,000 in federal funding by 2030 was secured.