In the final month of 2019, central Arkansas is already developing plans for an upcoming 2020 task, the U.S. Census. According Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, preparation for the census under the supervision of Communications Director Cozetta Jones began around four or five months ago.
"She just attended a national conference, I think it was in Chicago about two or three weeks ago, where she was able to see the models of what other counties and cities are doing and brought back some best practices," Hyde said. Additionally, Planning Director Van McClendon has worked on the project since the beginning of the year. Some of that preparation, according to Hyde consists of determining areas that risk being undercounted.
"What we’ve been doing is identifying areas of the county that are quote unquote 'difficult to count' is I think the term they use and building that collaboration with the cities so that we can try to focus on those areas especially," McClendon said. One of the resources Pulaski County is using to determine that is Geographic Information System mapping.
"It’s mapping that provides many layers that can be used …[to] identify households and single households and multi-family structures as well as business and you know, things like: ethnicity and economic[s]," Hyde said. "Children and how many residents live in a particular home or multi-family location. It drills into about as much kind of depth as you could imagine."
The Central Arkansas Library System also has a plan for counting central Arkansans. According to Mark Christ, the head of adult programming for CALS, an early component consists of raising awareness of the census itself.
"We’ll have information at all of our branches just making sure people are aware it’s coming up and the importance of filling out the census," Christ said. He believes one of the largest challenges for the 2020 census compared to 2010 is how internet-dependent it could be. CALS is providing a dedicated device at each branch of the library where patrons can fill out the census.
"Even within Pulaski County and certainly within Perry County there are areas that don’t have a lot of internet access," Christ said. CALS is providing a solution for this in the form of an outreach vehicle.
"With Pulaski County, we’re going to figure out what areas of the county were the most undercounted in the last census. And then we will go out with our outreach vans to these areas with Wi-fi hot spots and devices so that people can come to us to fill out the online census," Christ said. Another predicted challenge is lingering worries about a citizenship question on the census, which federal judges ultimately blocked.
"There’s a possibility that some of our immigrant communities might still be concerned about participating in the census because of the publicity that surrounded that," Christ said. While there is not an exact number on how much Pulaski County stands to gain monetarily through a proper census count, there is data on how much Arkansas lost after the previous census.
"For everybody who’s not counted, it’ll be around $2,500 per year that will be lost in federal funding," Christ said. The census count also determines more than funding for programs, according to Hyde.
"Our numbers calculate the number of representatives that we send to Congress every year. It calculates what our ‘turn-back funds’ and the amount of participation in programs that come back to our county from the taxes that we pay," Hyde said.
Census Day is April 1 and marks the official start of the count.