Johnson said North Carolina is in the bottom 10 states when it comes to the self-response rate for the 2020 Census.
“The pandemic has played a big role in the response across the country,” he said. “The pandemic has really shaken down how people respond. There is a lot of uncertainty.”
Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography, said the census is important for the government to understand who citizens are.
“It is the backbone of virtually every data product researchers, governments and businesses use to understand who we are, how we’ve changed and what this might mean for the future,” she said. “This once-a-decade count is the only source of basic demographic data on all individuals living in the United States.”
Johnson said the census directly affects college students because the count impacts the amount of money allocated for Federal Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid.
“You’re really leaving money on the table when you don’t fill out the census,” Johnson said.
Tippett said that at the federal level, the census guides about $1.5 trillion of spending annually, which includes Pell Grants.
In a survey by The Daily Tar Heel, students said they think the census is important. But some said they find it confusing.
Many students who responded said they were confused about whether to fill out the census if they lived on or off campus.
Tippett said universities are only responsible for counting students who live in university-sponsored housing, such as residence halls. Students who live off campus must complete the census for where they lived last academic year.
Johnson said students need to fill out the census based on where they were living on April 1. He said the low response rates in college towns could be because of the confusion about on-campus versus off-campus students.
“If you live off campus or are renting a unit that is not owned by a college, this is where the numbers look down,” he said. “I think a lot of students went home during the pandemic. They should come back and count themselves in their apartments.”
Tippett said if a student is unsure if they have filled out the census — or if they were counted by their parents or university — they should go ahead and fill out the census because the Census Bureau can de-duplicate for multiple responses.
Tippett said having the most accurate count possible is important to make sure North Carolina students have all the resources possible.
“Everyone should care about the census," she said. "It is the most democratic and inclusive activity we do as a country, and the results guide annual spending and the allocation of political power for the next decade."
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