Officials in Crawford County are making a renewed push to get area residents to respond to the 2020 census before the decennial count of residents nationwide ends, as the county’s response rate remains below the statewide average.

"In Crawford County we currently have a 61.8 percent response rate, which is about 7 percent lower than Kansas’ response rate, and in Pittsburg we’re even lower at 58.8 percent," City of Pittsburg Assistant Planner Brittan Brenner said at last Friday’s county commission meeting. "So we’re making a really dedicated and intentional push over the next month — it closes on Sept. 30 — to get our community completely and accurately counted."

Pittsburg Deputy City Manager Jay Byers also spoke at the meeting, noting that earlier in the year Pittsburg had a higher response rate than the statewide average. But following developments such as Pittsburg State University students returning home after in-person classes were cancelled in the spring, Byers said, he now fears the city could see a census undercount that will show its population decreasing from a decade ago.

"That would be devastating for us in terms of business development," he said.

This was the first year that people have been able to respond to the census through the internet, Brenner said, which is how most people who have responded to the 2020 census have submitted their responses.

In a typical census year, census takers would begin going door to door in May to get responses from those who had not responded by mail, but this year they did not start until Aug. 11.

"So rather than having about five months of census takers being in the community following up on non-response, we’ve now positioned ourselves — or been put in the situation — of only having about a month and a half," Brenner said. "So the idea that our census takers are going to be able to have the impact they normally have is unrealistic, and so I think that it’s our responsibility as community leaders to take that upon ourselves and do as much as we can to get the word out."

Brenner stressed the importance of getting an accurate census count to ensuring that the county receives appropriate levels of funding.

"Currently, if we were only to have a 60 percent count, the State of Kansas would lose roughly $50 million annually over the next 10 years just as a result of Crawford County not being counted," she said, "so it’s really important for so many state programs and local programs that we get the word out and we’re able to have a funded and counted community."

Efforts to inform the public about the importance of the census have included a City of Pittsburg social media campaign, Brenner said, and she has also worked with area business leaders and Pittsburg Community Schools, among other organizations, to spread the word.

Outside of Pittsburg, Brenner said, the far western part of Crawford County has had one of lowest response rates.

"It’s understood that the rural communities are going to be the hardest to reach with the limited time schedule, so that’s a big hit to us," she said.

Other outreach efforts that city and county officials are looking into include billboards, further internet-based promotional campaigns, and mobile census assistance sites, which involve U.S. Census Bureau employees going to areas where people frequently come and go or congregate, such as senior centers or outside of a Walmart, to offer assistance with filling out census forms.