Less than half of the households in Aiken County have responded to the 2020 census, the decennial count of every person living in the United States that informs government funding and economic growth.

The census self-response rate in Aiken County as of Sunday morning is 45.1%, below the South Carolina rate of 45.6% and the nationwide rate of 50.2%, according to the Census Bureau's website.

Census numbers are used to determine congressional representation and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding for programs like Medicaid, Head Start and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Census participation now is important because it will be 10 years before you will be asked to give feedback again,” said Terra Carroll, president and CEO of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot happens in 10 years. For example, toddlers will be teens, teens will be adults and some adults will be senior citizens. There are a number of government programs that service each level of life. Not providing an accurate count could diminish the services offered,” she said.

Homes should have received invitations in the mail to respond to the census, but responses can be given online with or without the invitation. The census can also be done on paper or over the phone.

Completing the census is “critically important for Aiken County,” according to Will Williams, president and CEO of Economic Development Partnership.

“At this time with everyone’s attention focused on the ever-changing news on COVID-19, it is imperative that people take 10 minutes to complete the 2020 census,” he said.

“An inaccurate count has a 10-year negative impact on important federal and state funding as well as elected representation at all levels of government.”

Gary Bunker, chairman of the Aiken County Council, said census data could affect representation in Congress, the South Carolina Statehouse and even in Aiken County. 

If there’s an area of Aiken County that is undercounted, he said, they will receive less representation, as the county council district lines will be redrawn.

Bunker said allocation from the Local Government Fund is also based on the census. 

"The local government fund, which funnels state money in support of state purposes to the counties, and to a lesser extent to cities and towns, is based on census numbers, so if Aiken County was again under-represented by the census, then Aiken County would receive less support from the state legislature," Bunker said.

The census is key in allowing taxpayers to get back the money they send to Washington that then flows into programs, according to Bunker.

“A very strong compliance from the citizens of Aiken County I think would be very helpful on a variety of fronts,” he said.

The rate of response for Aiken County is 45.1%, but individual census tracts have a response rate as high as 60.7% and as low as 22.7%.

Renwick McNeil, South Carolina partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said during a February event in North Augusta that one of the reasons an accurate count isn’t achieved is the worry people have over having more people than allowed living in their residence. Census data, though, is confidential and it is against the law for census information to be used against someone.

Census data also helps inform decisions for businesses.

“Skewed numbers impact economic development opportunities that determine where businesses start-up, relocate and expand,” Carroll said.

“A community without good jobs is a weak community. Everyone has to do their part to ensure our communities thrive. Spending a few minutes completing the census helps build our community for years to come.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Census Bureau to make some operational changes.

Nonresponse followup, when census takers begin interviewing households, has been pushed back.

The planned schedule was set for May 13 to July 31 but is now Aug. 11 to Oct. 31, according to the Census Bureau's website.

More information about the 2020 census can be found at 2020census.gov.

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.