As is often noted, political decisions go in favor of those who show up. That is normally applied to voters showing up at the polls but it also applies to the decennial census which is scheduled to end September 30. Unfortunately, many residents in the state, and particularly in the eastern region of the state have either decided the census is not that important or that there is ample time to participate. Both those observations are desperately wrong and can be particularly damaging for our county and the region.
According to NC Counts Coalition, a non-profit organization formed to coordinate and promote the census in the state, North Carolina households are five per cent behind the previous response rate for the 2010 census. But of greatest concern is that the state is 63 per cent behind in comparison with reports collected in other states, putting the state 30th in the nation.
As of August 2, Carteret County’s response to the census ranked 90 out of 100 with only 42 per cent self-responding. Other coastal counties are not faring well when compared to the rest of the state. Dare County for example, one of the most important tourist communities in the state, is clocking in at 96 out of 100 counties reporting as of the end of July, two months before closure of the census.
Since the census began April 1 of this year little more than half of the state’s households have responded to the census questions either on line, through the postal service or through direct connection with census takers. Obviously the personal contact is diminished due to the Governor’s mandate on public events and required sequestration but that is something that North Carolinians must work around. Participating in the census is critical and time is running out with less than two months to go before the census ends.
The census is conducted every ten years so the conclusion of the 2020 census will have at least a ten-year impact on the state’s access to federal funds such as Pell grants, food stamps, Medicaid, and school lunch programs, just to name a few. In addition to the immediate impacts, the residuals can last even longer since many federal programs are developed for more than one-year periods. And of course representation in the US Congress is affected since the number of House of Representatives members in each state is allotted based on population numbers verified by the decennial census.
But of particular concern for us here in Carteret County and the eastern region is the impact that the census will have on state as well as federal programs.
Eastern North Carolina once held significant political clout in Raleigh when it came to both representation and the resulting focus on the needs of the region. That clout has been lost to the state’s more urban counties in the piedmont. Five counties in the state, Wake, Durham, Guilford, Forsyth and Mecklenburg, control over 60 per cent of the legislative votes in Raleigh, which means that the eastern and western regions are at the mercy of those legislators representing these larger urban centers.
This political shift is the obvious result of the growth in those metropolitan regions but it can be tempered if residents in the eastern region will show up for the census. Failure to participate in this region only strengthens the political clout that piedmont representatives have over the state budget and planning which in turn will reduce needed attention on the less populated regions.
Road construction and other state funded projects are directly connected the census data. That data is the foundation for all decisions both political and financial. Politicians and bureaucrats look at the most recent census and apply their efforts to locations where the numbers of people are the highest.
Considering the fragile nature of our environment and economy here in the east, every citizen counted confirms for the federal and state governments that this county and region are important. With the last six weeks remaining, efforts are underway for personal visits by census takers but local residents should not wait.
Census participation is an imperative. The county and the region must show up for the count or we all stand to lose both political clout and equitable access to our tax revenues.