The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday October 21st

Column: The census will shape the future of our state

Photo courtesy of Melody Kramer.
Buy Photos Photo courtesy of Melody Kramer.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Melody Kramer is the director of communications for Carolina Demography.

Every decade, there is a massive undertaking to count every single person in the United States. The once-a-decade count, known as the census, shapes how billions of dollars in federal funding are distributed (including $43.8 billion to North Carolina), how political seats are apportioned and how communities plan for their future residents.

I work for Carolina Demography, an applied demography unit within the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since spring, we have been measuring the census response rate for each county in North Carolina.

Our current response rate is below the national rate and below where our state was in 2010. North Carolina communities that have not responded at high rates are predominantly rural, Black and brown, with low internet access.

We are also concerned about an accurate count of college students. The census counts where you were living as of April 1, 2020 – and COVID-19 scattered college students across the country.

You have until Oct. 31 to complete the 2020 Census. This may change, however, depending upon the outcome of the administration’s  appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

If you’re in college, here’s how to ensure you’re counted:

  • First-year students were not UNC residents on April 1, 2020. They should verify that their parents have filled out the Census based on where their family was living on April 1, 2020

For everyone else:

  • If you were living on campus, including Granville Towers in March 2020, before the residence halls closed, you do not need to respond to the Census. You will be counted by UNC.
  • If you were living in an off-campus apartment or home in March 2020 — and were there on April 1, 2020 or would have been there had it not been for COVID-19 — you should respond to the 2020 census with that address. Visit and enter the 12-digit code mailed to your home or apartment. If you don’t have a code, click “Start Questionnaire,” and there is an option to indicate that you do not have a Census ID.

Ideally, one person should respond on behalf of everyone who was living in the house on April 1, 2020. If it is not possible to coordinate with your roommates, everyone should respond, and the Census Bureau will eliminate duplicate responses.

  • If you are an international student attending UNC, you should be counted according to the guidance above, regardless of your current residence or your permanent residency.
  • If you were studying abroad and have returned to the United States by April 1, you should be counted where you were living on April 1.

It is vital to our state that all North Carolinians be counted. The 2020 Census ensures our state receives its fair share of more than $1.5 trillion in federal dollars from census-derived programs (nearly $44 billion to North Carolina in FY2017) and that these and state funds are distributed fairly across the state. As Stacey Carless, executive director of the N.C. Counts Coalition, testified last month before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:

"As COVID-19 disrupts and takes over our lives, it is also disturbing the 2020 census operation in North Carolina," she said. "About 3.8 million individuals who are predominantly Black, brown, rural and young children are missing from North Carolina's decennial count, putting North Carolina at risk of missing out on $7 billion in federal funding to support school lunches, medication and care for seniors, workforce development programs, housing assistance, college grants, small business loans for rural communities, hospitals and more."

If you have additional questions about the census or other demographics in N.C., please reach out. We’re at

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email 

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