City to create Complete Count CommitteesBy HASKEL BURNS,
As a result of the population count of the 2010 census, Hattiesburg fell to the rank of fourth most populous city in Mississippi, down from its previous rank of third in the state.
Mayor Toby Barker attributed that, in part, to the lack of an accurate count in that census – something he doesn’t want to see happen again in next year’s census.
“But also we know that we lost a lot of people in two tornadoes, and so counting every single person (in the upcoming 2020 census) is so critical for our city,” Barker said at last week’s Hattiesburg City Council meeting. “We want to at least hold what we have, if not improve, and the best way to do that is to get an accurate count.”
To that end, city officials are appointing a Complete Count Committee, which is designed to educate citizens and provide knowledge and resources regarding the census. Kristi Hicks, who serves as partnership specialist at the Department of Commerce for the United States Census Bureau, explained to council members the importance of creating the committees to ensure that everyone is included when the time comes to count.
Hicks said in the 2000 census, 73 percent of the residents of Forrest County responded to the Census Bureau, but in 2010, that number dropped to 72 percent. Likewise, in 2000, 69 percent of the residents participated, but only 62 percent responded in 2010.
“You all may know that there’s more than 46,000 residents who live here, but according to the data collectors, we have 46,000,” Hicks said. “If we miss some persons, then we have to wait 10 years before we can do another count of the population.
“So these Complete Count Committees will be a group of individuals who will volunteer their time in helping to educate the residents as to why we do the census and why it’s so important.”
The census count also determines a state’s representation in Congress – a situation Mississippi knows all to well, as the state dropped down from five congressional seats to four after the 2000 count.
“In 2010, we stayed at four congressional seats,” Hicks said. “So in 2020, the population will determine whether we increase our congressional seats, stay at four, or if we decrease down to three congressional seats.
“If we decrease to three seats, or if we increase, that’s when they’ll have to start redrawing the (district) lines. So that’s when you’ll start seeing your wards changing, your voting precincts changing, your school lines changing. So that’s another reason the census is so important, so that you can get fair representation.”
In addition, the federal government has allocated more than $675 billion per year throughout the United States, which is also contingent upon an accurate count.
“If you get the count right, you’ll get your federal dollars,” Hicks said. “If you don’t get the count right, you get the federal dollars for the count that was given for your community.
“You all in Hattiesburg should understand why federal dollars matter, because you have seen several tornadoes in the past five years, and Hattiesburg has received millions of dollars from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA, before they issue out any funding, they’re going to see what the count of the population is, according to the census bureau.”
The census also affects funding for Head Start organizations, SNAP benefits, free and reduced school lunches, and Housing and Urban Development initiatives.
Hicks said the city can install as many Complete Count Committees as needed to get an accurate count. The committees can start initiatives such as kickoff meetings with media briefings, rallies, recruiting census workers, and incorporating information in newsletter, mailings and social media posts.
“We’ll probably create individual Complete Count Committees for particular neighborhoods and apartment complexes, to make sure we count absolutely everyone,” Barker said. “We’ll be issuing a proclamation soon, and we’ll be probably ask the council to do its own resolution as well, just because so much is at stake with this complete count.”