When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 Census earlier this year, Americans gained some time in responding to the once-in-a-decade nose count.

But even though federal, state, and local officials have urged people to respond, the current rate of response is tracking below that of 2010, when thousands of people went uncounted.

In fact, according to the Census Bureau website, Georgia’s response rate stands at a little over 58%, far below the 2010 rate of 72%. The same is true of both Carroll and Douglas counties, both of which lag the 2010 census count when officials estimate that almost one-quarter of those living here were not counted.

At stake are millions of dollars each year in federal funds that are allocated according to local populations — not just for one year, but for the next 10 years; a decade that is sure to see more people moving into the region.

It has been estimated that each person in Carroll County is worth $2,300 in federal funds; each person in Douglas County entitles that government to somewhere north of $3,000 in funding.

More than half of the federal funds designated for Georgia go toward public health. The next highest percentage, 28.7%, goes to families and children.

Key programs that are funded largely on census data include Federal Medical Assistance Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part B, highway planning and construction, and the Pell Grant program.

But more is at stake. The primary reason census data is gathered is for political representation. Congressional districts — as well as legislative, county commission seats, and city wards — are all apportioned according to census data. An undercount in any particular district may mean ethnic or socio-economic groups are under-represented at all levels of government.

The extended census deadline of Oct. 31 is drawing near, and the Census Bureau is preparing to send out thousands of people to go door-to-door, visiting households that have not yet responded via the internet, mail, or by telephone.

They may have their job cut out for them. Just this week, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that four-in-10 U.S. adults who have not yet responded to the census say they would not be willing to answer a knock at the door by a census taker.

RESPONSE RATES LAGGING

So far in Georgia, 2.8 million households in the state have responded either online or other ways to the census, according to Census Bureau data. That sounds like a lot, but the actual number of households in the state is just more than 3 million.

The state’s current response rate of 58.4% compares unfavorably to the statewide response of 77.2% in 2010, the same year the state gained a new seat in the U.S. Congress. The current rate puts Georgia at 37th place among the 50 states and territories.

Douglas County has the 18th best response rate among the state’s 159 counties, at 63.8%. But in 2010, the response rate was 75.5%.

Carroll County is in 32nd place in the state, with a response rate of 60.8%. In 2010, the response rate was nearly 77%.

In Douglasville, the current response rate of 59.5% is just below the 2010 response rate of 60.6, even though the city and Douglas County began their preparations several months ahead of Carroll County.

Villa Rica ranks 54th in the state, with a ranking of 63.7%, making it tied with Hampton, a city of about 7,000 in Henry County. Carrollton’s response rate is 55.2%.

PURPOSE OF THE CENSUS

The original purpose of the census, as required in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, is to determine how states and are apportioned seats in the U.S House of Representatives. But in the 230 years since 1790, when the first census was conducted, the headcount has taken on more meaning.

The primary purpose remains apportionment. In 2010, Georgia gained a congressional seat — and one more vote in the Electoral College — thanks to the census. Other states, like Louisiana, Iowa and New York, lost a seat due to the ever-changing shift in the national demographic.

Local governments use census data to plan where to locate fire stations, schools, and hospitals. Developers use census data to plan where to build shops, homes, and entire industrial developments.

An accurate count of an area’s population ensures that federal dollars are spent where they should be, and gives city planners and others the tools they need to manage growth and deliver county and city resources where they are needed.

In 2000, the population of Villa Rica was 4,134, but by the 2010 census, the population had exploded to 13,956, an increase of approximately 238%. It is estimated that its current population is somewhere north of 15,000, with 40% of its citizens living in Douglas County.

This growth has put a strain on city infrastructure, but more residents also mean more revenue to improve services throughout the city. How well those services are allocated depends on how well city leaders understand the population growth in the city.