State, Local Government Face New Reality for 2020 U.S. Census

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Stakeholders at all levels of government — federal, state, and local — are pivoting to stay flexible and get creative around the Census amid an unprecedented set of new challenges. While increasing online outreach is helpful to some, it’s also problematic in a place like Detroit, where many residents are on the challenging side of the digital divide, without access to technology or a reliable high-speed Internet connection at home. To reach these folks, Census workers there are taking a decidedly low-tech approach, including Census literature in food boxes given out by distribution centers and local churches.  The Census effort also piggy-backed on a massive $23 million cross-sector investment made in digital equity. A number of entities teamed up to give public school students in Detroit tablets with six months of Internet service, so that they could continue learning online while sheltering during the crisis. With the school district already an established Census partner since Jan, organizers were able to include cards encouraging recipients of the tablets to go online and fill out the Census.

And Detroit is far from the only community grappling with low access to technology or the Internet. That is a problem that also extends to rural areas of the country, including Indian Country, which are the regions that are home to Indian reservations. Kevin Allis is the CEO of the National Congress of American Indians, and he said his group is concerned about an undercount costing its communities resources for the next decade, which is particularly troublesome because their lands are held in federal trust, making them almost entirely reliant on the government for support rather than property tax revenue. Almost 40 percent of those communities also have no access to broadband, Allis said. 

State, Local Gov Face New Reality for 2020 U.S. Census