As work begins on making final preparations for the 2020 U.S. Census, Coahoma County and the state of Mississippi are recording some of the highest scores in the nation.
However, in this case, the higher the score is not what you’re aiming for.
And those high numbers could result in low amounts of federal and state cash coming into our county.
According to the Census Bureau, a Low Response Score is a metric developed by the bureau to classify geographic areas according to their propensity to self-respond in surveys and censuses. Simply put, the LRS is the predicted mail non-response rate. The score is updated yearly and included in the Planning Database. The higher the LRS value, the harder-to-count that area is.
In looking at the most recent figures, Coahoma County has a predicted low response score of at least 20 percent for the upcoming census, with five of our seven tracts in the county reporting a 25 percent or higher score.
And if we fail to report all of our population numbers, then we would see fewer state and federal dollars coming this way in programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, Medicare, the school lunch program, and highway planning and construction.
For each person that we fail to report equates to an annual loss of $2,053, according to numbers produced by the “Counting for Dollars 2020” study conducted by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy in Washington, D.C.
“That gets to be real money after awhile,” said Marilyn Stephens, an assistant regional manager with the U.S. Census Bureau. “The money is going somewhere. The money follows the numbers.”
Stephens headed up a program titled “The Road to the 2020 Census: Focus on Mississippi” on Thursday at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale as part of the Delta Regional Forum, a two-day summit that featured workshops and discussion on matters such as population health, development and entrepreneurial problem solving.
Clifford Holley, who is with the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies and the State Data Center of Mississippi, served as the census program moderator.
In addition to the loss of government funding, Holley said the failure to report correct numbers could also play a part in economic development and recruiting new businesses to Coahoma County.
“Businesses use this information as well,” Holley said, in speaking of “where to locate new business, where to expand existing businesses.”
Still, he said the term “government” includes a great many things.
“From schools to planning to hospitals. Are you going to build a geriatric wing or a pediatric wing? Is your 65 and older (population) growing or is it zero to five,” Holley said.
The census is basically a blueprint of a community, he said.
“We are a data-driven world now,” Holley said. “It’s the old adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ If you don’t have good numbers going in, you can’t expect to make sound decisions.”
State Rep. Orlando Paden, who represents a large portion of Coahoma County in the state legislature, is a big believer in census numbers and making sure that we get a proper count.
“We are missing a lot of numbers compared to the last census we had,” Paden said. “I also saw a report on the monies we’re missing out on. These are things like Head Start, the SNAP benefit program, special education in the public schools. And those are always the concerns that I have. Those are just a few of the ones that directly affect us.”
Stephens encouraged attendees at Thursday’s workshop to take the lead in forming a Complete Count Committee that reflects all segments of the community, including those from government, business, education and faith-based and community-based organizations.
Paden is planning to form an organizational meeting for September that will include city and county leaders, as well as local educators and representatives from Coahoma Community College.
Stephens said the Mississippi Delta is very important to her six-state region, which is based in Atlanta. In fact, she said there will be four “partnership specialists” working in the 18 Delta counties to make sure we are getting a proper count.
April 1, 2020, will be the census date.
That’s a date that we should circle in red on our calendars.
A failure to recognize the importance of that date would be a costly failure on our part.
Michael Banks is the publisher/editor of The Clarksdale Press Register. He can be reached by phone at 662-627-2201 or email email@example.com.