WAVERLY – It’s time for every citizen to stand up and be counted.
The 2020 US Census is underway, and taking part is important because the figures help the federal government determine how tax dollars are allocated for things like roads and how many free and reduced meals are allowed per school district. They also are used to determine the number of Congress members for each state and draw voting districts, and many other purposes.
On the state level, census numbers are used by agencies like the Nebraska Extension to ensure staffing is in line with state demographics in the areas where services are focused, including livestock, crops and water, nutrition, youth and family and more, according to a press release from Nebraska Extension.
“We want to make sure that it’s a representation of who we are and what our population looks like,” said Kathleen Lodl, associate dean of Nebraska Extension.
Waverly residents are ahead of the curve when it comes to filling out the 2020 Census forms. According to David Drodz, research coordinator for the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research and the Nebraska State Data Center, 49 percent of Waverly residents have returned their census forms since official notices began showing up in mailboxes on March 12.
Lancaster County has a 45.8 percent return. That’s sixth out of the 93 counties in the state. Howard County leads the state with 51.4 percent. Cass County is tied with Rock County for 34th place with 38.7 percent.
For the first time since the US Census began in 1790, the public has four ways to respond – online at my2020census.gov, by mailing in the official form received after March 12, during an in-person interview or by calling 844-330-2020.
Online responses are the recommended method, Drodz said, but filling out paper forms is another option.
“People can sure wait until they have a paper form (older residents especially may be more comfortable with this), but if doing so are asked to complete it right away after they receive it,” he said.
If census forms aren’t completed in the next couple of weeks, in-person interviews will be scheduled.
“They are costly to the taxpayer and provide less reliable information,” said Drodz.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled many promotional activities for the census across the state and pushed back census operations in homeless shelters two weeks or more, Drodz said. The pandemic may also affect in-person interviewing, which is scheduled to begin May 1.
“I don’t think they’ll cancel that but it could take a different form,” he said.
Instead, census takers may try calling non-responding households first, but Drodz said that is not the preferred method because the phone numbers are often not accurate.
In Lancaster County a formal “complete count committee” helped spread the word before the census began and developed a plan and materials for outreach, Drodz said.
Officials believe younger citizens will respond online and expect a high response rate overall in the county.
“Lancaster’s population likely skews younger, where providing information online is commonplace and comfortable,” he said. “Portions of Lancaster are very high income, and that tends to correlate with higher census response.”
In contrast, residents in the lower income range, renters, members of diverse populations and new immigrants tend to be the “hardest to count,” Drodz added.
As the 2020 Census gets under way, the US Census Bureau is releasing the annual county population estimates. Population figures are from July 1, 2019.
The population of Lancaster County was estimated at 319,090 – an all-time record high, Drodz said.
Overall since 2010, Lancaster County has the second fastest rate of population growth at 11.8 percent, Drodz said. Only Sarpy County is higher with 17.9 percent.
Lancaster County’s an-nual growth rate in the last year was 0.8 percent, which is half a percent below what the county had averaged in the other eight years of the decade (1.3 percent), Drodz reported.
“This mostly stemmed from a decline in net immigration, but births were down a bit and deaths continued their small steady uptrend (which will continue in most if not all locations as more baby boomers age into age ranges with higher mortality rates),” Drodz said.
City estimates won’t be released until June, but early figures show Waverly is among the fastest growing places in the state, according to Drodz, but not quite as fast as Hickman or some of the Omaha suburbs.