Census 2020: Billions of Dollars At-Risk for Lowcountry

Pam Evette (front & center) w/ S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster (directly behind) at S.C. State House

Would you take three minutes to secure hundreds of billions of dollars for our state and your local community?

Three minutes? Hundreds of billions?

You can do it simply by filling out the census. More than half of the households in South Carolina have failed to complete the simple form.

The Impact of the Census
Funding for everything that flows from the federal government down to states and local communities is based on census numbers. If the federal government only counts half of all South Carolinians, it will apportion funding based on half our actual population.

Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette says having a complete count has immense fiscal implications.

“There is $800 billion available to us at the federal level that will come down to our state based on the census numbers,” she said in a Facebook Live discussion. “We use that money for our Pell Grants…we use it for community food programs, we use it for programs for our seniors, for our veterans, for health care providers, for community organizations, for adoption and foster care…our afterschool programs and our early learning programs.” And much more.

Consequently, it is particularly important for children, seniors, low-income families, minority groups and disabled individuals to be fully accounted for. Yet these groups are exactly the people who are most under-reported.

Additionally, Congressional and state legislative districts are apportioned by population.  For a small, growing state like South Carolina, a low count could inhibit the opportunity to gain greater representation in Congress, says John Truluck, director of Dorchester County Economic Development.

“State House and Senate districts and Federal House districts are redrawn based on new population numbers from the census.  Higher population numbers could mean more representation in those bodies to get more done for Dorchester,” he said.

Filling Out Census is Simple
How much effort is required to complete the census? About the same effort to post and tag a photo on Instagram. The census has 12 multiple choice questions covering how many people live in your household, their names, sex, age, ethnic origin and relationships to each other.

That’s it. That’s the whole census.

The COVID-19 virus has stymied the Census Bureau’s effort to employ door-to-door canvassing to get the response rate as close to 100% as possible. By law, the Census Bureau may only count households that have self-reported or responded to interview questions from a Census employee. It may not use statistical modeling, extrapolation or even direct visual contact. In other words, a Census taker may see five people living in a home but cannot count them unless they respond to the interview questions.

The Census suspended field data collection activities in March and does not plan to resume them until at least June 1, leaving insufficient time to meet its statutory deadline for concluding data collection. Census officials formally requested Congress extend that deadline until October 31, which will allow for apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data to be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.

Census Effect on Health
As an engine for economic development, the Lowcountry Graduate Center encourages all Lowcountry households to complete the census. Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties have better response rates than the state average but are still all under 50%. Dr. Nancy Muller, director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center and a professor of public health, says this has serious health implications for the area.

“This could affect our ability to tackle the social determinants of health in serving at-risk groups,” she said. “Decreased funding for programs combatting poverty, child and domestic abuse, affordable housing shortages, lack of access to health care, limited transportation options and more has been demonstrated to lead to increased incidence of physical and mental health issues in a community.  A lack of adequate attention to these issues allows serious health and other socioeconomic disparities across our population to persist.”

Three graduate programs training professionals to deal with community pathologies partner with the Lowcountry Graduate Center to make classes accessible for students here: South Carolina State University’s MBA program with a healthcare concentration, University of South Carolina’s MSW health and mental health concentration, and the College of Charleston’s Executive Master’s in Public Administration.