The end of census activity was supposed to be the end of September, and now it's been extended to Monday. Now that she's armed with a few more days, it's no surprise that Mary Liddell is continuing her efforts to get everyone in Pine Bluff registered and counted.
Liddell was named by Mayor Shirley Washington as the complete count coordinator for Pine Bluff, which is a fancy term for a volunteer who has worked tirelessly this year to maximize the city's U.S. Census count.
For the rest of this week and into Monday, she has crews knocking on doors. She's calling it Census Outreach/Boots on the Ground. And many of those boots belong to the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity -- both the college graduate members of that fraternity and the undergraduate members who are still in college at UAPB. They were covering a lot of ground on Wednesday afternoon as they knocked on doors in the Dollarway area, collecting census registrations and getting people signed up to vote.
Technically speaking, the job of knocking on doors is for paid census workers known as enumerators. But based on the number of people these local volunteers are finding that have not registered for the census, Liddell wondered if anyone from the census has been through any of those neighborhoods before.
"That tells me that somebody has not been doing that job," Liddell said Wednesday. "They are finding quite a lot of families that have not been registered for the census. We're going to try to register as many as we can."
Registering for the census doesn't sound like a difficult proposition, but it is surprisingly hard to get more than about 60% of the public to participate. And so much rides on an accurate count. Congressional districts are carved up across the states based on population. And some $1.5 trillion in federal money gets spread over 316 federal programs. Closer to home, Arkansas got $16.7 billion in federal spending in 2017. That money went to Medicare, Medicaid, roads and highways, student loans, low income tax credits, and the list goes on and on. And much of it is based on population, and that number is based on the census.
And businesses use the census figures as well. If your city is trying to make a case for getting a certain store or restaurant, one key way to make that happen is to have sufficient population.
Liddell said Pine Bluff is sitting at almost 53%. That means just a bit over half of the people who should have registered for the census actually have registered. And she is hoping that once some segments of the population, such as nursing homes, the UAPB campus and the prisons, have been plugged in to the numbers, the city will get beyond 60%.
Liddell may get busy on another project -- and we hope she does -- but after Monday, she won't be hollering about the census. There are a handful of days left. For sure, if you are reading this, get busy and register. But look around your neighborhood and reach out to those folks and to any other circle of friends you have and make it a point to ask if they have registered. Every registration that doesn't happen costs Pine Bluff thousands of dollars. That's money just left sitting on the table. We can ill afford to let that happen.