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Census Bureau asking residents to complete 2020 form online


The 2020 census will see a push toward internet-based data collection, but some have concerns with a growing digital divide.

Next year’s census will be the first to have the internet as the primary response form, with phone as secondary. The 2020 census website, run by the U.S. Census Bureau, states households will be segmented as either “internet-first” or “internet-choice,” based on internet access in a geographic area.

Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda said the city is taking an active role in the process, as census data informs state, local and federal representative counts and federal funding for municipalities.

“In Elyria’s case, we’re an entitlement city, so we receive Community Block Grant funds and so our census tract count will help determine how much money we get back as a community,” she said. “It’s very important that everybody participate in this process.”

The 2017 American Community Survey 5-year Estimate measured computer ownership and internet access by census tract, including defining internet access as those connected, not just if the service was offered in the area. In Elyria, the lowest tracts — in the downtown and Western Heights neighborhoods — have as few as roughly 30 percent connectivity. Similar numbers are seen in Lorain, with tracts on the city’s south side seeing as few as 36 percent to 37 percent connectivity.

While Lorain and Elyria’s number aren’t as low as some in Cleveland, which has areas with as low as 9 percent connectivity, there is still a concern about getting households without internet access counted.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said while the digital movement should help the government reach many residents, there are still those in Lorain without internet access.

“A resident without internet access counts just the same as a resident with internet access,” he said. “The digital push is a positive move for the census, but it must augment, not replace, traditional methods.”

Brinda said ahead of the 2020 rollout, the city will update its master address file, ensuring that any new construction or changes within the city is accounted for. She plans to connect with community leaders, churches, schools and the library to help get people to respond.

Other cities will be doing the same; Ritenauer noted a number of larger cities are forming census committees to assure every resident will be counted.

Cities also will help the bureau get its workers connected to hard-to-count communities including the homeless, immigrants, minorities and limited-English language households. Following the online survey push, reminders will be sent out for other options. From there, if someone is not contacted, workers will go out in April 2020 to collect information in person. Municipalities will provide the government with locations to count suspected homeless, such as shelters or known outdoor sleeping areas, according to a preparation guide published by the National League of Cities.

Brinda said 80 percent of participants are expected to use the digital portal, responding via a computer or phone call. The other 20 percent are expected to be hard-to-track populations and they will receive several mailings to remind them to complete the survey. After the third mailing, a representative will visit them in person to take their information.

“They’ve eliminated all the paper to this,” she said. “… They’re doing the mailings to remind people, but they’re telling people not to respond by mail.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households will be mailed invitations to complete the online forms in three waves, stating in March 2020. Ahead of that, Brinda said there are social media and campaigns planned locally to alert residents to the change.

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or

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