What’s at stake for Ottawa County with the census

Michigan is currently tied for third among U.S. states in its 2020 Census response. And Ottawa County is participating at a higher rate than the state average. However, there are still people who need to be counted. 

The deadline to respond to the census has been extended until Oct. 31, so there is still time to participate — either online, by mail, or by phone. The Lakeshore checked in with Shannon Felgner, Communications Manager for Ottawa County, to better understand what is at stake for the county when it comes to Census participation.  

The Lakeshore: Where does Ottawa County stand in getting responses from the community and how does that compare to other Michigan counties?

Shannon Felger: Response rate for Ottawa County is 76%. This is the fourth-highest rate among Michigan counties.  You can look at the rates by Census Tract. We suspect the low rate in some of the Allendale tracts are college students who had left the area because classes were canceled at Grand Valley State University due to COVID-19. The census says that college students should be counted where they usually live during the school year, even if they were temporarily staying elsewhere due to COVID-19. For more information about counting college students in the 2020 Census, visit 2020CENSUS.GOV/grads.

TL:  What's the county's approach to getting participation and how has that changed since a decade ago? 

SF: Where the census previously was promoted through public television, newspaper, and radio ads, we have been heavily promoting the 2020 Census via social media, and provided a one-stop page, miottawa.org/census, that provides information, answers frequently asked questions about the census, and provides links and downloadable flyers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

TL: What populations is the county worried might be undercounted and what is being done? 

SF: Nonprofits and community organizations are working to promote Census 2020 to their various audiences. The census refers to “hard-to-count” populations as children, rural residents, individuals of color, immigrants, and the homeless. The reasons vary and could include a fear of government, privacy concerns, language barriers, complex household relationships, and highly mobile households.

TL: What is at stake for the county when it comes to census results? 

SF: Being counted helps communities create jobs, provide housing, fund K-12 education, prepare for emergencies, and build schools, roads, hospitals, and libraries, as well as change to determine government representation. Census data is used to determine how many seats each state gets in Congress. State and local officials also use census data to draw state and local legislative and school district boundaries.

TL: Does the census only count citizens? 

SF: No – the Constitution specifically requires an “actual Enumeration” of “all persons” — regardless of citizenship status — meaning all people count. The 2020 Census does not ask whether you or anyone who lives with you is a U.S. citizen.

If you have more questions about the census, check out Q&A on the County’s Census page.
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