Weekly comments from Dale Martin – Regional response to census disappointing

By Dale Martin
August 28, 2020

City Manager Dale Martin

As the calendar turns to September, it is imperative for area residents to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census. Please take mere minutes to visit https://2020census.gov/en.html to complete the survey. The final tally of the Census has long and significant implications for federal and state resources, including legislative representation and funding. The 2020 Census effort will end on September 30, following an extension beyond the original completion date of July 31 due to the pandemic.

The Census website tracks self-responses to Census survey efforts through the Census website, telephone, and mail. According to the statistics available, the regional response efforts are disappointing.

The national self-response rate is 64.6%. The state response rates, with Florida at 61.2%, range from 73.6% (Minnesota) to 31.9% (Puerto Rico).

The Nassau County self-response rate (61%) mirrors the state rate and ranks 27th among all counties (67 total). The Florida counties with the highest self-response rates are Sumpter and St. Johns (70.2%); seven counties have response rates of less than 40%. In comparison, four Wisconsin counties rank in the top six counties nationwide with response rates higher than 82%.

At the Florida city level, Fernandina Beach (which for Census purposes does include areas outside the city limits) has a response rate of 55.6%, ranking 199th of the 401 Florida cities listed on the Census website. Two Florida cities have response rates of 80% or higher: Cooper City (82%) and Oveido (80%). Six cities have response rates of less than 20%. What was interesting to note with the response rates is that I expected communities with smaller populations to skew the response rates (needing fewer people to drive the response rates higher). It appears to be the opposite: Cooper City (population: 36,000) and Oveido (41,000) response rates overwhelmingly exceed the bottom six communities, all of which have populations of 1200 or less (five of the six populations are actually less than 500).

The Census identifies seven Census tracts, the smallest measured Census region, considered as Fernandina Beach. One of those tracts (identified as 503.08) is entirely off island. The remaining tracts on Amelia Island, due to the irregular city boundaries, include both city and non-city parcels. Three of those six tracts have responses rates higher than 60%. These tracts encompass the central area of the City from Atlantic Avenue south to Sadler Road and S. 8th Street leading to the Shave Bridge.

The far north end of the City (501.02) has the lowest response rate of 52%. The two southern areas are slightly higher: 502.03 (bounded to the north by Amelia Parkway and Via Del Rey, the east by S. Fletcher Avenue, and south, generally, as far as Burney Road) at 53.8% and 502.05 (bounded by Sadler Road, S. 14th Street, S. Fletcher Avenue, and Via Del Rey), 56.0%.

As a community that often prides itself on engagement, as I mentioned earlier, the self-response rates are disappointing. The impact of the Census results are very far-reaching: it is critical that as many people as possible be counted. This is a once-in-a-decade effort, not nearly as burdensome as voting, which requires a whopping two days per year every other year (and, at best, has a similar 50% participation rate). An internet response to the Census takes less than five minutes to complete.

If you have not completed the Census, I implore you to do it. The 2020 Census concludes on September 30. Please visit https://2020census.gov/en.html.