POLK COUNTY – Originally, community leaders charged with planning the 2020 U.S. Census awareness campaign had designated May as the time to begin door-to-door outreach, seeking county residents who had yet to self-respond to the census.
Due to the pandemic, plans have changed for census takers.
The self-response period for the 2020 U.S. Census began March 12. Days later, on March 15, the Center for Disease Control published a recommendation to cancel all gatherings of more than 10 people. On March 28, all field operations for the census were suspended.
“April was a loss to pretty much all of us,” Polk Vision Executive Director Kim Long said.
Polk Vision is one of the local agencies working to promote census participation.
While some parts of the community are beginning to open, census takers have yet to be given an all-clear to start going door-to-door. Long said many county residents may still be uncomfortable answering the door to a stranger during a pandemic.
Time will tell whether the 2020 U.S. Census will be ready by the time it is supposed to be on the president's desk in December. Local census offices in Polk are scheduled to begin closing in August and September.
In comparison to the last census, which took place in 2010, participation is down somewhat. At this time in 2010, the self-response rate in Polk County was more than 60 percent. The current response rate is around 55 percent, as of May 14.
As far as Polk’s municipalities go, Polk City currently has the highest self-response rate at nearly 60 percent. Polk City Mayor Joe LaCascia credits the response rate there to a Facebook group promoting participation.
Charts have circulated around social media showing the self-response rate in each of Polk’s 17 municipalities — most of which are above 50 percent. Haines City, Frostproof, Dundee and Lake Hamilton currently have the lowest self-response rates.
Participation in the census can be important on the local level for several reasons.
For instance, Florida gained two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of the 2010 Census. Population has continued to grow since and experts say the State of Florida may gain at least another seat after this Census.
The results of the Census will also help in directing billions of dollars in federal funding to municipalities and counties.
“People don’t understand that we receive funding from the results,” said Kelly Callihan, the city manager for Davenport. “Everyone always hollers about the roadways being too crowded. The Census helps with those kinds of things.”
Once it's deemed safe, census takers — in partnership with Polk County Public Schools — will be bringing WiFi-equipped buses to select communities to serve as hotspots where staff will help more residents to respond.
Those who have yet to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census can still do so, or learn more about the process, by visiting https://2020census.gov/.
Anita Todd contributed to this report.