Mississippi schools, cities and families stand to lose millions in federal funds if enough residents do not respond to the 2020 Census by the Sept. 30 deadline. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker warned in a statement earlier this month that the state was “lagging well behind the national response rate.”
“I would ask every Mississippian to make sure they have completed the census before time runs out. This is a civic obligation just like voting or performing jury duty,” Wicker said on Sept. 11.
Mississippians can complete the census survey in minutes online at 2020census.gov, by calling 844-330-2020 or by returning a survey they should have received in the spring with a postage-paid return envelope.
In a page dedicated to the census on its website, the Mississippi Department of Education warns that “students could lose access to critical programs and services” if they are undercounted.
“Children are the group most likely to not be counted in the census. Mississippi KIDS COUNT calculates that, for the next 10 years, Mississippi will lose, on average, $2,780 for every child not counted annually,” the MDE website says. “Mississippi counties, based on their population size, could lose between $5,500 and $1.7 million annually if just 1% of children are not counted.”
Census data is used to allocate funds for education generally, but also for special-education grants, the National School Lunch Program, child care grants and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Racial Inequities Persist Among ‘Undercounted’
As of Wednesday evening, Mississippi ranked no. 48 nationwide for household response rates among all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The Census Bureau reports that the government has collected data from 91.8% of Mississippi households. Four states trail Mississippi: South Carolina with a 91.7% response rate; Louisiana with a 91.1% response rate; Montana with a 91% response rate; and Alabama with an 89.8% response rate. Mississippi trails Georgia, which has a 92.3% response rate.
Southern states with large Black populations per capita dominate among the states with the lowest census response rates. Mississippi has the largest Black population relative to its overall size, followed by Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina and Alabama.
Maryland has a significantly higher household response rate, though, at 97.2%.
During an NAACP telephone town hall in March, as the novel coronavirus pandemic reached Mississippi, W.K. Kellogg Foundation President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron highlighted the importance of the census to communities of color nationwide.
“It is extremely important to make sure that those communities that are typically undercounted are counted in the 2020 process because we don’t get another opportunity for a decade,” she said.
Overall, the state’s self-response rate is currently 59.7%, and 37% of self-responders have filled out the census online. The other 32.1% of responses come from census workers going door-to-door to households that have not yet completed it.
The current total is well below the current national self-response rate of 66.2%. After the final 2010 Census count, Mississippi self-response rates were 61.3%.
Self-response rates are down in Mississippi’s congressional districts across the board since the 2010 Census, but the self-response rate is lowest in the 2nd Congressional District, which is majority Black and includes the capital city of Jackson and much of the Mississippi Delta region.
So far, 56.5% of 2nd District residents have filled out the census, compared to 62.3% of residents in the 1st congressional district, which includes north and northwest Mississippi cities like Southaven, Oxford, Tupelo, Corinth and Columbus.
In the 2nd Congressional District, only 31.9% of respondents filled the census out online, compared to 40% in the 1st District. In much of the Mississippi Delta, residents do not have access to broadband internet.
‘Help Maximize Our Representation’
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents the 2nd District, began touting the importance of the census for his constituents in a February video message.
“The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others use to provide daily services, products, and support for you and your community,” Thompson said. “Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources based on census data.”
Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District, which includes South Mississippi cities like Hattiesburg, Gulfport and Biloxi, recorded the second-highest response self-response rate at 61.5%; the third district records the third highest self-response rate at 58.5%.
In his Sept. 11 op-ed, Sen. Roger Wicker noted that the census could prove especially important for Mississippians amid the continually unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
“The census determines Mississippi’s political representation in Congress and the electoral college, the amount of federal dollars our communities receive for roads, hospitals and schools, and even relief money for COVID-19 and natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. We need a strong headcount to make sure our state is accurately represented,” Wicker said.
“Every completed survey makes a difference for our state. As we near the census deadline, I urge all Mississippi residents to participate to help maximize our representation.”