GRANITEVILLE — For the first time ever, in 2020 the U.S. Census will be online.

People also can respond by mail or by phone, Renwick McNeil, with the U.S. Census Bureau, Atlanta region, said Wednesday during a Dynamic Dialogues Guest Lecture at Aiken Technical College.

“We've made it easier,” said McNeil, who is the South Carolina partnership specialist. “We're trying everything possible to give you an opportunity to complete your census.”

People will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 census between March 12, 2020, and March 20, 2020, and a reminder letter between March 16, 2020, and March 24, 2020.

People who do not respond will receive a reminder postcard between March 26, 2020, and April 3, 2020. A reminder letter and paper questionnaire will go out between April 8, 2020, and April 16, 2020.

From April 20, 2020, to April 27, 2020, the Census Bureau will send out a final reminder postcard before following up in person with a visit.

“After about the third or fourth notice, if you have not completed your census, that is when the traditional old-school door knockers – we call them numerators – will come and knock on your door, and they will ask you would you like to complete your census,” McNeil said.

McNeil said the Census Bureau's mandate is to “count everyone – every person living – count them once and only once and in the right place,” including both U.S. citizens and non-citizens.

“It doesn't matter if you're a citizen or not,” McNeil said. “The Supreme Court said the question is not to be on the census, so it's not there. We're counting every person living in the United States.”

McNeil emphasized that information gathered from the census is safe and protected by U.S. Code 13.

“We are not allowed to share that information with anyone, not ICE, not law enforcement, not your school, not the housing authority – no one. The only thing we share is the total number of people in America, in the county, in the state,” he said. “In December 2020 when we turn the numbers in to the president, we don't turn in information. All we turn in is data.”

McNeil said more than $675 billion annually is dispersed to municipalities based on the data generated by the census, repeating three times, “The data follows the money.”

“We want to make certain South Carolina gets its fair share of that. Let's bring it even closer to home: we want to make sure Aiken County gets its fair share,” he said. “The way we do that is by ensuring that everyone completes the census. These numbers will impact us for the next 10 years. Let's make certain we get it right.”

Will Williams, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership, said the census numbers can determine whether a new industry locates in Aiken County or an existing industry expands.

“Those numbers are looked at by companies looking to site new facilities, so if they see a decline in population or it is flat-lined, we might not look as favorable as other places in the United States,” Williams said.

The census numbers also determine representation at the city, county, state and federal levels, Williams said, adding that South Carolina gained a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 based on data from the 2010 census.

“We want to have those numbers right,” Williams said. “We get to do this one time every 10 years. If we don't get it right, we've got a 10-year mistake that we have to live with.”

McNeil said the Census Bureau is hiring now with a pay rate of between $14 and $15 per hour.

“We need more people to work the census. We need more numerators. We need more people to knock on doors. We need more people to do address canvassing,” he said.

For more information about census jobs, visit 2020census.gov/en/jobs.html.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.