Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron was joined by some of the county's municipal mayors and community volunteers earlier this week for an official kickoff to the yearlong awareness and education campaign leading up to the actual 2020 census that begins April 1, 2020.
In partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has assembled a group of community volunteers to form a Rutherford County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee responsible for outreach to various sectors of the community to secure an accurate population count — and the millions of dollars in federal funds tied to it.
Residents will be able to respond to next year's census by mail, phone, and for the first time ever, online — before census workers begin canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors throughout the remainder of 2020 to reach those still uncounted by that time.
Ketron said the census "is considered the gold standard in the U.S. for statistical data" and is "used heavily" for civic planning, grant applications and distribution of federal funds. At stake is $675 billion annually that the federal government allocates across the country based on the census, which has been conducted every 10 years since 1790 "to ensure fair representation in districts at a state and federal level."
Pointing out that Rutherford County needs "every dollar we can possibly find with our tremendous growth," Ketron noted that $1,091 in federal funds are missed in Tennessee for every one person that doesn't respond to the census.
NaaDzama Ashby, partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said that responding to the census in 2020 will be "easy, safe and secure" and that the goal "is to count every person living in the United States once, and only once, and in the right place."
The 2010 census put Rutherford County's population at roughly 262,600, while a 2017 estimate by the Census Bureau put that number at more than 317,100. The effort to find an updated official number begins a year from now.
Yet historically during the census, harder-to-reach populations such as children under age 5, residents who live below the poverty line and immigrant populations pose challenges. Locally, officials also want to increase the census response rate for students attending Middle Tennessee State University.
The Rutherford County census committee, headed by community volunteer Harold Yokley, will be developing strategies to reach those populations, answer questions and encourage participation throughout the next year.
Representing the city of Murfreesboro at the April 1 census kickoff was Diana Tomlin, a city planner and census committee member who oversaw Murfreesboro's special census conducted last year that showed an increase 19,000-plus residents since 2011.
Tomlin said it's critical that residents know that the information they share for the 2020 Census "is secure … it can not be shared with another federal organization except in statistical form. Your personal information is not going to be shared with another agency."
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed noted that communities across the nation with proactive outreach efforts leading up to the census "have shown greater response and it's proven to help gain resources."
"Each person in Rutherford County counts and makes a difference," she said.
Also speaking at the kickoff event was La Vergne Mayor Jason Cole and Eagleville Mayor Chad Leeman. A video recap of the kickoff by Rutherford County Government can be viewed at https://youtu.be/ANtjdZmZaQc.
The U.S. Census Bureau will be hiring and training census takers throughout the next year.
Anyone interested in serving on the Rutherford County Complete Count Committee can contact Steve Sandlin, deputy to the Rutherford County mayor, at 615-89-7745 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.