Study: Walker County indifferent for Census response

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Walker County is ranked as the 12th most indifferent county in the state for completing the 2020 Census survey, according to a Daily Mountain Eagle analysis of individual county data released Monday by Alabama's statewide Census emphasis. 

An "indifference index" for each county was released by Alabama Counts! in advance of the start of the Census in March. The census is considered crucial by government, non-profits and industry. Some indications are that the state may lose a U.S. House seat as a result, and grant funding and benefits for the poor are also possibly in jeopardy of being reduced with a lower count of the population. 

The research — which surveyed participants from all of Alabama’s 67 counties — was commissioned by Alabama Counts! and conducted by Birmingham-based New South Research.

"The indifference index measures the level of indifference to the 2020 Census," according to released data notes. "Those most likely to not be encouraged, no matter the loss or gain, rank a lower Indifference Index, while the more conscientious and concerned counties have a higher index."

“It’s important for us to understand each county’s odds of participating in the Census as well as accompanying motivations in order to understand how we can increase participation in apathetic areas,” said Kenneth Boswell, the chairman of Alabama Counts! and director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). “We can be more intentional in our outreach and education efforts in areas where we see the biggest need.”

“Historically, around 60 percent of Alabamians have responded to the U.S. Census, and that number lines up with people that said ‘Extremely Likely’ and ‘Very Likely’ in our research,” he said. “People that were ‘Somewhat Likely’ are the ones on the fence that we need to motivate to be counted. We have to share with them that it’s safe, quick, easy and matters a great deal to their community.”

Walker County and 12 other counties out of 67 had the highest "somewhat likely" percentages, many  sitting at 32 percent. For Walker County, that amounted to 20,388 people. Cleburne and Lauderdale were the highest at 40 percent, while Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties were also at 32 percent. 

Walker County had an index of 9.27, just below Cullman County at 9.28. Fayette was at 9.1, and Blount was at 9.84 and Tuscaloosa was at 9.54. Winston stood at 11.6, Jefferson came in at 11.54.

Marion County was at 13.3 - among the sixth highest, with Escambia the highest at 14.62. The lowest in the state was Etowah County at 7.28.  

According to Walker County's profile, 40 percent of the county would be extremely likely to respond to the Census survey. A total of 24 percent would be very likely, and 4 percent would be unlikely to respond. 

It was stated the top deterrents for county residents for participating is that they don't understand the importance, are indifferent and don't think it is important or matters. 

Five percent of Walker County's population, or 3,220 people, are considered to be living in hard-to-count neighborhoods. 

In Winston County, 50 percent would be extremely likely to respond, 35 percent would be very likely, 12 percent would be somewhat likely and 4 percent are unlikely to complete the survey. A total of 9 percent, or 2,193 people, are considered to be in hard-to-count neighborhoods. 

Marion County - like Cullman, Fayette and Blount counties - has no hard-to-count population at all. A total of 44 percent are extremely likely to participate, with 24 percent very likely, 20 percent somewhat likely and 12 percent unlikely to participate. 

Some counties also were considered as much as 100 percent hard to count. Among those counties released at or near 100 percent were Wilcox, Sumter, Pickens, Perry, Lowndes, Greene, Coosa, and Bullock counties. 

Nearly 30 counties had no and almost no difficult areas to count. 

Across the state, in some counties one of the reasons given for being a deterrent for not completing the Census, even in counties that were not difficult to count at all, was being "lazy."

According to the release,  43 percent of all counties polled indicated the prime reason people would not complete the Census forms would be a lack of understanding over its importance. Boswell said regardless of the region, officials need to educate people on what is at stake for Alabama. 

Also, 41 percent of respondents believed it would take more than 12 minutes to fill out their Census, and 38 percent did not know how much time it would take. Officials estimate it will only take five minutes or less, as there are only 10 questions for the head of a household and six per additional person.

This year's Census is the first that can be completed online, but 45 of the state's 67 counties showed a negative effect from this. 

“There could be many reasons for this, including distrust of providing online personal information or distrust in a new federal method,” Boswell said in the release. “Regardless, people need to know they can still take the Census via historically tried-and-true methods.”