By Dan Ponder
It is hard to believe the problems that have descended on Southwest Georgia in the past couple of years. Hurricane Michael left such widespread devastation that parts of our area are still trying to crawl out of that hole.
Just as we are seeing some semblance of light at the end of that very long tunnel, this new deadly, unseen challenge lands at our doorstep. Coronavirus or Covid-19. Whatever you call this invisible enemy, it has caused more disruptions in our normal everyday life than most of us have experienced in our lifetime.
Yet, I fear that a third dilemma is just around the corner for Seminole County and southwest Georgia. It is hard to believe it, but the undercounting of our citizens as part of the 2020 Census could leave negative long-term effects on our community that will outweigh the damage caused by either Michael or Covid-19.
The current response level of southwest Georgia and Seminole County is dismal. In our corner of the state, Miller County leads the way with a 45.9% response rate, followed by Decatur County at 39.7%, Seminole County at 32.4% and Early County at 31.5%.
To put that into perspective the state of Georgia’s response rate is at 50.1%, which is itself lower than the 53.4% response rate for the entire United States. Seminole County lags a full 21% below the average for the nation as a whole.
Why is that important? The once a decade count is the formula for much of the federal funding that finds its way to the state and local level. Every person that is uncounted results in a funding cut to our cities and county of over $1,300. That is $1,300 per person, per year of lost revenue that we simply cannot afford to lose.
The cities in these four counties are doing a little bit better. Bainbridge is at 41.4%, followed by Colquitt at 41.26%. Donalsonville’s response rate is at 39.1% and Blakely brings up the rear at 38.0%. All remain nearly 10 percentage points below the state average and even further below the national response rate.
Statistics do not lie, no matter how boring they might be. If this shortfall in counting continues, the financial impact will be just as devastating as a Category 3 hurricane or this virus that has spread around the world.
There was not much we could have done to prepare for 150 mile per hour winds that hit this far inland. There is even less we could have done to stop a virus that we did not even know existed two months ago. However, there is plenty we can do to prevent the damage that will be done if we allow these current response rates to lag so far behind the rest of the state and country.
The Coronavirus has clearly impacted our response rates, but it has for everybody. We have a good portion of the county that has poor or nonexistent internet service. There are those that do not trust the government and do not want anyone knocking on their door, especially now.
The irony is that the easiest way to prevent some stranger at your front door is to simply fill out the form now. Do your part to help secure the funding that is vital to this area.
Some research shows that good results are achieved when communities reach out to those they know and trust. That means you reach out to your friends. You post something on your Facebook page. You share information with your friend list.
It means that online church services mention the census every Sunday and follow up with their membership. It means that companies mention it to their employees and perhaps allow them to register online at their workplace. It means that you call your friends and neighbors and ask them if they have completed their census form.
This really is something that YOU can do. You can be part of the team that rallies to help your city and county. You can make a difference in the financial health of this community for the next ten years.
Visit my2020census.gov to fill out your census form today. Fill out the card that was mailed to you if you are not computer friendly. Call a friend if you need some help. If all else fails, answer the door when that census worker knocks. It is worth the effort, both now and for the next ten years.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org