Athens County Raises Awareness For 2020 Census

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ATHENS, Ohio – Every decade, U.S. citizens can count on one thing: the census. Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau sends each American household an invitation to participate in the questionnaire. Mandated by the Constitution, the questionnaire counts the number of individuals within the U.S. and its territories. Citizens in all 50 states and Puerto Rico can complete the questionnaire by mail, online or by phone. 

What Can Students Do? 

Cade Roe said he filled out the census on campus.

While the process seems simple, there is still confusion on how to fill out the census correctly. 

In January, some Ohio University students in resident halls received information packets about the census. OU sophomore Cade Roe received one of the packets. 

“I was kinda confused as to why they wanted census information from a college, and I didn’t really understand it,” Roe said. 

After multiple calls from a census worker and fearing there could be legal repercussions, Roe filled out the packet and turned it back in. 

The packet given to Roe was from a formal recruiter and is one of the early efforts to get college students to participate. Athens area census workers are targeting OU students to make sure they are filling out the census while at school. Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel said full-time OU students should fill out the census in Athens.

“If you live somewhere 51% of the time, you should do the census where you are 51% of the time,” he said. “You may be registered to vote in Cleveland or someplace like that, but that has nothing to do with the census.” 

Athens County Efforts

While college campuses are early targets, the Census Bureau will send out census information to households beginning March 12. Chmiel said he and the commissioners have big plans to get students and the community involved.

“We’re going to be sponsoring Census Fest because we want to get the students’ attention,” he said. “We figured that would be a good way to do that.” 

Census Fest is planned for April 1 to coincide with National Census Day. Chmiel and Athens County Counts, a census awareness group, is working with local businesses to help sponsor the event. Chmiel said the activities will take place outside the Athens courthouse. 

Outside of big events, the Census Bureau depends on census workers to help collect data. Chmiel said that promoting census jobs is his other big priority this census season. Chmiel said these jobs could provide an excellent opportunity for students. 

“I’m sure it would be an interesting experience and a great resume builder, ” he said. 

Chmiel said the jobs start at $16 per hour, and students could work between 15 to 40 hours a week. 

What does the information do? 

Chris Chmiel stresses the importance of the 2020 census.

By law, the census information is due to the President by December 31. The data collected reveals more than just the population size. The data breaks down into specific details, like how many people live in a particular economic range or how many people have access to internet services. This information is then used by the government to determine funding for public services, including libraries, schools, emergency services and hospitals. 

According to data from the 2010 Census, about 30% of the Athens population lived in poverty.  Chmiel said the added information from students could help Athens financially. 

“We are a distressed county, so there’s more funding from let’s say the Appalachian Regional Commission or the USDA,” he said. “So, students participating does really help us get more federal funding.” 

The numbers gathered from the Census also determines how communities define themselves as either cities or villages. Chmiel said the census would determine the future of Nelsonville as a city. 

“In Athens county, one of the biggest things at stake is Nelsonville is currently a city, “ he said. “If they don’t have over 5,000 people in this census, then they will no longer be a city. They’ll be a village, and that’s going to have financial implications. ” 

As of the 2010 census, Nelsonville was home to over 5,000 residents

The information gathered also determines the recipients of Pell Grants, a government grant for college students. Roe said he was not aware the census determined that, and he’s happy he took the time to fill out the census. 

“I’m pretty glad that I filled it out,” he said. “Even though I couldn’t fill out a lot because I’m a college student.” 

In the past, the Census Bureau has struggled to receive accurate data, which has led to states not receiving enough funding. In 2010, Ohio lost $1,206 for every unaccounted person. Chmiel said that residents could be risking the loss of money and government representation if they choose not to participate in the census. 

“The less people we count,” he said. “The more money we lose.” 

Important dates for the 2020 census.