Official census data is only collected every 10 years, and the numbers touch many aspects of people's lives, from representation in Washington D.C., to where the next fire station may go.
Responses to this year’s census will help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding make their way to Aiken County and will also help with city planning and local funding.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 53% of households in Aiken had responded to the census, on par with the South Carolina response rate of 53.3%. Around 1.4 million households in South Carolina have responded.
Aiken County ranks 1,641 of the 3,215 counties nationwide being counted. South Carolina ranked 39 out of 52 in state/territory response rates.
Locally, census information helps municipalities in a variety of ways.
Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the census has a lot of applicability in the real world.
“The decennial census, which our residents respond to, is very important for Aiken, as well as for all municipalities and counties on several levels,” Bedenbaugh said.
One, he said, is that an accurate count ensures the city is eligible for certain types of federal funding. Plus, the data is used to properly draw election districts and track growth.
Both Bedenbaugh and North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit said the cities use census information for long-range planning.
Pettit mentioned parks, public safety and public service.
Bedenbaugh said census information can be used for water and sewer infrastructure plans, as well as locations of Public Safety substations.
The census helps the municipalities in regards to funding, too.
“A prime example is the Capital Projects Sales Tax,” Pettit said. “North Augusta’s share of projected CPST IV revenues was set, in large part, by the number of residents in our city. Grants are also sometimes distributed using the identical information.
“And the impact extends to the county level for its planning to meet future needs and allocations to the county from the state government,” he said.
Pettit said responding to the census is an “important civil duty.”
Census data is used to determine federal funding, and well as representation and number of elected seats locally, such as County Council, and nationally, such as the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bedenbaugh said he filled out the census questionnaire one weekend morning, and it took less than five minutes online.
“It is very simple, very quick if you have an internet connection on your phone or your computer. It takes very little time," he said.
Pettit mentioned another benefit of census data: genealogy.
Census data is private and can’t be used against someone, but does become public 72 years after being collected.
“I use census information for genealogical research, but I have to wait 72 years for a census to become public,” Pettit said.
“It takes less than five minutes to provide the information. In many cases, our great-great-grandchildren will be elated to find us in the 2020 census when it is made public in 2092.”
Sharon Rodgers, president of United Way of Aiken County, said it is vitally important that everyone is counted.
“If we don’t have an accurate number, then we could end up losing valuable federal resources that we otherwise would have had access to, so it’s very important,” Rodgers said.
With the coronavirus pandemic, participation is down, she said. She also mentioned the lack of broadband internet access in rural areas, which makes it hard for folks to fill out forms online.
Right now, we are in a “difficult situation, but it’s a necessary process," Rodgers said. “Normally, we would have rallies and things like that … but with the pandemic, it really interferes with those kinds of efforts.”
The deadline to complete the census questionnaire is Oct. 31.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused some change in the U.S. Census Bureau’s operations.
Some offices do Update Leave, where census takers drop off invitations to respond and paper questionnaires at households. Those operations began May 4.
Non-response followup, when census takers interview households in person, is set to take place between Aug. 11 and Oct. 31.
S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela S. Evette, chair of the South Carolina Governor’s Complete Count Commission, will launch a video campaign on Wednesday, May 13.
The commission worked with The Carolina Agency, a full-service communications agency run out of the University of South Carolina to create the campaign.
The video will feature 21 South Carolina influencers including Darius Rucker, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, USC Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley, musician Edwin McCain, and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.