NORTH LITTLE ROCK -- The city is starting a new census campaign focusing on videos and social media after early numbers show the city's response rate is lagging behind its peers.
Margaret Powell, director of external affairs for North Little Rock and a member of Census 2020, said last week that the city has launched a new census action plan because of the approaching deadline.
The campaign started Monday and is split into two initiatives. The first is the NLR Census Video Contest and social media blitz. The second is a "boots on the ground" effort where the city will send people to places where they believe participation numbers can be improved.
Powell said the new campaign was launched after numbers showed the city's response rate was at 59.1%.
"About six weeks ago we began getting a clear picture of the low household response numbers in many of our 23 tracts," Powell said in a news release. "We knew we had to act, and act fast, to reach the 40% of households not responding. We knew we had to act fast because the deadline was moved up on us."
The U.S. Census Bureau's effort to finish the tally of the nation's population started in August and will be a month shorter than originally planned.
The bureau's plan before covid-19 struck called for 2½ months to reach more than one-third of the country's population who have not self-reported. Census-takers had planned to knock on doors from May 13 to July 31.
The pandemic led the bureau to change deadlines. The starting date was up to the bureau, but ending deadlines are set by law. The bureau asked Congress to move deadlines back, but Congress declined. Now the bureau must finish the work between Aug. 11 and Sept. 30.
People can still answer census questions online through Sept. 30.
"We thought we would have until October 31 until a few weeks ago, so everything has gotten real intense," Powell said.
The move has led to cities across the country and the state making adjustments.
In Little Rock, for example, officials are having "Census Saturday" events at grocery stories through the end of August to help residents complete the census forms. The effort was part of a targeted approach by the city to make sure residents in areas of Little Rock who have historically been undercounted would respond.
Powell said at the beginning of the year the North Little Rock census campaign seemed to be on track with the North Little Rock Complete Count Committee receiving a lot of positive feedback, but the covid-19 pandemic derailed the momentum.
"We had churches, schools, libraries, veterans, the Hispanic committee all participating. It was a really rousing start," she said. "When covid hit, everybody got distracted with so many things. Now we have parents having to make school decisions.
"The census has just fallen behind."
Powell said city officials knew it was their job to make sure residents understood why taking part in the census was so important.
"The city can't do it by themselves," she said. "When you fill out your census, every member of your household counted brings about $3,000 each year for the next 10 years into North Little Rock.
"Those federal funds supplement the city's budget and raise millions of dollars, which pay for programs and services we all care about and that affect not just you, but also your kids, your parents, grandparents and grandchildren."
Powell said with the deadline being shortened by a month the city has to find a new way to reach people, and a social media blitz is the first step.
The new campaign, known as "Win with the Census," is an attempt by the city to start a fresh movement.
Powell said the idea behind the video contest came about when a sponsor decided to donate $1,000 as a prize. Other sponsors pitched in to allow contestants a chance to win $250 if they win in their category.
The video contest is open to anyone who lives in North Little Rock, but participants have to state honestly that they have filled out their census forms.
Videos must to be 30 seconds or less, be about something important regarding filling out the census form, and use the slogan "Count Me In, NLR." Participants must post the video with the correct grouping hashtag on their Facebook page and other social media sites.
The categories are open, business or organization, church, school, seniors, Spanish language and veterans. Hashtags that are supposed to be used for each category can be found on the city's Facebook page.
The second initiative, known as "Boots on the Ground," is based on the city utilizing census tract information to target areas of town that are hardest to count.
Rusty Gartrell, media specialist for the North Little Rock Police Department, said he helped create door hangers that contain census and contest information. He said the hangers should be ready to be handed out soon.
Powell said North Little Rock firefighters will walk citywide to residences and place door hangers with census information and a smoke detector.
"The firefighters will just drop the hangers off at the door," Powell said. "They won't be knocking and will be avoiding face-to-face contact."
Powell said the census staff, volunteers and city staff members also will man tables at area businesses and at public housing to give people an opportunity to access the census website.
"We just have to be careful when we do this," she said. "We want to be able to communicate in person, but we want to protect everyone. It's a delicate balance."