United Center

Staff at the United Way, housed at the United Center for Community Care, had to change their strategy on promoting the census in light of the spread of the coronavirus.

As many people are forced to shift to digital workspaces and online classrooms, the staff at the United Way of Greenwood and Abbeville Counties are having to rely on word of mouth to get people to complete the 2020 census.

Every decade, the federal government rolls out a census in order to get a count of everyone living in the country. The census asks a variety of questions about the people living in each house in America but doesn’t identify any of the respondents, as federal law protects people’s anonymity in census data.

The data collected is used to determine how federal money is distributed, and can help determine governmental representation, the placement and expansion of utilities, funding for hospitals and schools, highway planning and so much more.

That’s why area nonprofits are so eager to make sure everyone fills out the census: The federal funds that come in are essential for providing services to those in need.

“But it’s hard now, we’re having a lot of issues with the technological aspects,” said Emily Findley, director of community impact at UWGAC. “That was the issue to begin with, access to technology.”

The United Way had plans to set up laptops at the United Center for Community Care on Phoenix Street, and have residents from that area come in to fill out the census. The neighborhood was already one of the places they needed to target that had little access to computers, but after the coronavirus pandemic spread and concern about gathering in public grew, the strategy had to change.

“We’re using grassroots efforts more than ever in a time when everything is going digital,” Findley said. “We’re working closely with the boots on the ground to get the information out.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, 57.6% of Greenwood County’s households had completed the census, shy of the nation’s nearly 60% response rate. To respond to the census, visit my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020. Those who don’t respond to an initial invitation sent to every residence to respond online will get a paper copy of the census mailed to them.

The United Way’s community partners have been a huge help. Mamie Nicholson with the Self Family Foundation rarely ends a phone call without telling people to complete the census and to share the message themselves. Johnathan Bass at the YMCA shares the message with clients and families he comes in contact with, and other nonprofits are asking clients to complete the census.

“Anybody can be an advocate for the census to get more money for the community,” Findley said. “Have you reminded your friend? Did you remind your neighbor today?”

The census aims to get a count of everybody living in every American household. That means count everyone, including children and even undocumented residents, said Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager, in an April interview.

“The census doesn’t care about anything but who is breathing,” she said. “Who is breathing in each house on April first.”

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.