About 2.2 million households in North Carolina have responded to the 2020 Census so far, but the state is still underperforming in responses, coming in 36th place nationwide.
As of April 7, North Carolina’s self-response rate to the 2020 Census was about 43 percent, about 3 percent below the national average. Comparatively, Orange County’s self-response rate was about 53 percent.
The response rate includes submissions online, by mail or by phone.
Bob Coats, the governor’s census liaison, said this year’s census is the first to use the internet to collect responses, but nearly 700,000 households in the state do not have internet access. While the North Carolina Complete Count Commission had been working with local organizations and public libraries to provide access to internet, he said COVID-19 has resulted in those organizations being closed.
“The Census Bureau did a great job of looking at those communities that are traditionally affected by not having access to high speed internet,” said Durrell Johnson, director of communications and outreach for the N.C. Counts Coalition. “So a lot of those households still received a paper form, in addition to an option to take it online.”
Johnson said his team at the N.C. Counts Coalition proposed alternatives to support communities without access to high-speed internet, such as using WiFi hotspots and tablets to help individuals fill out the census during community events in rural North Carolina. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, he said this plan was shut down.
Renee Price, vice chairperson of the Board of Orange County Commissioners, said the Census Bureau planned on using enumerators — individuals who go door to door to households who have not filled out the form. The date has been pushed back, she said, but they’re hoping to have enumerators in the field later on during the summer.
Price is the chairperson of Orange County's Complete Count Committee, a group of volunteers dedicated to increasing awareness and motivating residents to respond to the 2020 Census. Price said the committee has engaged schools, municipalities, public information officers, health departments, faith leaders and social services, among others, to conduct outreach during this time.
“The biggest challenge is, as always, is the hard-to-reach or hard-to-count communities, people who either don't trust the government for good reason or don't speak the language, you know, don't speak English and just unaware of what is going on,” Price said.