The 2020 U.S. Census will take place this spring, and Wilson County is gearing up to make sure the numbers are as accurate as possible through the Count Me Wilson initiative.
Information from the census count is used to determine state and federal funding, which means county education, roads, health care and more are impacted. It also determines each state's number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"A thorough count is going to make a big difference for the county," Wilson County Project Administrator and Count Me Wilson member Susan Shaw said. "Whenever grants are written, census data is used as a basis, and since Wilson County is so demographically diverse it helps even more to count everyone."
Wilson County could see approximately $32.8 million in combined state and federal funds based on the count, which the U.S. Census Bureau predicts has risen by 26,632 since 2010.
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"Municipal Tech Advisory Service did a study recently, and they said it was roughly $142 per person counted each year in potential state revenue," Wilson County Planning Director and Count Me Wilson chair Tom Brashear said. "At the federal level, a George Washington University study found each person accounts for an additional $1,091 in federal aid for social programs and other benefits."
According to Brashear, the state revenue generated from census counts is largely directed toward roads and bridges, while the federal funds apply to a wide range of grants and programs.
Count Me Wilson aims to raise awareness of that funding potential in the months leading up to the census.
"We're just looking at trying to get the word out about the census to everyone, and share its importance to the local community," Brashear said. "We've established social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram you can get to by searching Count Me Wilson, and we're also doing a series of radio and TV spots along with a regional effort from the Federal Census Bureau."
Residents may soon start seeing public service announcements from community leaders on social media, or hear a census presentation at their civic organization's next meeting.
Although the effort looks to encourage everyone to participate, there will be some focus on traditionally undercounted areas.
"By historic data, the most statistically undercounted areas in Wilson County are the south and east sides of Lebanon," Brashear said. "We'll be doing some events at the schools in those areas to emphasize to children and their parents the importance of being counted."
Other groups that are often underrepresented include children under 4, children born on Census Day and multiple families living under one roof.
"Children under 4 are underrepresented partly because they may live with their grandparents, or move between homes because their parents are divorced," Shaw said. "That's the group that will be 10-14 years old by the time the next census is taken, which means all those grade school and middle school years will be impacted by having less funding if the children aren't counted."
Shaw added that many homes in Wilson County are multigenerational, and that all people in the household should still be counted in those instances.
"In many cases, our undercounted population also has to do with recent immigrants, people who speak English as a second language and the homeless population," Brashear said. "They may not participate because of privacy concerns or fear of repercussion, but this is protected information that cannot be used in a criminal investigation."
The U.S. Census Bureau is legally prevented from sharing answers with the IRS, FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or any other government agency. Information entered online is encrypted to prevent it from being stolen.
Wilson County residents can also get involved with the effort by applying for temporary census-taking positions, which the bureau will pay $16.50 an hour for.
"There's a large need for those jobs here," Shaw said. "Typically, the self-response rate is 60-65%, so that leaves a lot of room for people to do follow-ups and make sure the count is accurate. They can go door-to-door or work in a call center, and the hours are flexible."
In order to work as a census taker, applicants must be U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age, have a valid Social Security number and email address and pass a criminal background check.
Those interested in applying may contact Antonio Scott with the Wilson County American Job Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the U.S. Census Bureau at 800-923-8282.
"This year's census is particularly important because our highest areas of nonparticipation are in our county seat," Brashear said. "Many of our state level programs are administered out of Lebanon and we want to make sure there's enough funding for them, but this is significant for people from Mt. Juliet to Watertown because the more state and federal income we have, the less likely it is for officials to consider any tax increases."