Five critical Census questions

We recently had our partners at the NC Rural Center talk with our team about the Census, so we thought we’d ask Brandy Bynum Dawson, director of advocacy, five critical questions to share.

What do people need to know about the Census?

Let me start by saying that all North Carolinians need to understand just how important the census is to our state, communities, and families.

A complete and accurate census count requires participation from every resident. Census data is used to determine political representation and federal funding allocations, as well as informs decision-making on local infrastructure and community and economic development. Additionally, an accurate census count is also important for allocating seats in electoral bodies and drawing legislative districts to ensure a healthy government sector.

Total federal funding allocations that come to North Carolina are upwards of $16.2 billion a year—which boils down to $1,600 per person, per year. Every dollar and cent that comes to North Carolina through these federal funding flows is crucial to the health of our state, for today and for the next 10 years.

We can’t afford inaccurate census results. We need to ensure every North Carolinian is counted.

What can community leaders do to help the Census succeed?

For starters, residents need to really understand why this is important. Hearing why it’s important from someone you know, trust, and have a relationship with is typically one of the best ways to move someone from conversation to action. Our community leaders need to be a resource and vessel of information for residents on the Census. North Carolinians also need to know where they can go for information about the Census, including how to complete it.

Each one of us can do our part to get the word out and share appropriate steps about how to participate. Our communities need to be strongly encouraged to participate in order to increase our state response rate.

What makes this Census different?

This is the first time in the history of the Census that there’s an online completion option. While this change presents great opportunity for folks with access to the internet and technology, it also creates barriers and challenges for folks who don’t have that access.

There are now three ways to complete the Census. Online you can visit You can also complete the Census by phone. There are different numbers to call based on your primary language. There’s also a mail-in option. If you received a hard-copy form in the mail, you can complete that and mail it back in.

While the technology may be different now, what remains the same is that the Census continues to be secure and confidential. Information that is sent to the Census is held for more than 70 years. Even then, when it’s released, it will be limited data.

What are the implications of COVID-19 on the Census?

Thus far, we are seeing a low response rate in North Carolina when compared to other states.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on a lot of the community outreach. There were full scale plans that largely hinged on face-to-face outreach on the ground. Those outreach efforts have had to pivot, and now more of this engagement work has moved online. Organizations have had to innovate in a short amount of time, so we’re seeing census advocacy being pushed digitally and on social media, as well as over the airwaves.

COVID-19 is all over the news—we’re constantly being inundated with information about infection rates and supply shortages. With the economic impact of the pandemic, too, many people are concerned about how they’re going to pay rent or pay for food—and it’s easy to understand why the census is pushed to the back of our minds. But the census still matters, as it helps us understand what our communities look like now and determine what resources they will need to thrive for the next 10 years.

It’s critical that we continue engaging people around the importance of the census and what they need to do to participate. We’re just going to have to get more creative.

Why is the Census uniquely important to North Carolina’s rural communities?

We know that rural communities across the state are under-resourced, and every dollar that goes to these communities is desperately needed. The census will also determine how many elected leaders represent rural communities at the state and federal level. Because of our state’s geography, accurate representation of rural in our legislative bodies will have a huge impact.

An accurate count helps make the case for rural community and economic development—and in a state where 80% of our counties are rural, this matters greatly.