With a foreign-born population of about 14 percent, the city of Bowling Green already faced a challenge in getting those residents counted in the 2020 U.S. Census due to language and other barriers.
But then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and the difficulties intensified.
The effort to get nonnative residents counted in the census “has been overshadowed by COVID-19,” said Leyda Becker, the city’s international communities liaison.
Local officials initially planned to host a series of events for nonnative residents where help would be provided in filling out the census. But with those events canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, “what’s been missing is that face-to-face contact,” Becker said.
Filling out a census form with a language barrier “can be overwhelming,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean the efforts have ceased.
As mobile coronavirus testing sites were set up in recent weeks in areas with high foreign-born populations, Becker and others have taken the opportunity to distribute census-related materials.
“We are trying to be creative with our strategies,” Becker said.
“The biggest challenge remains that we don’t know if we will be able to do” in-person census clinics, Becker said. “Now that things are reopening, we will make a greater effort. We hope it ramps back up.”
Bowling Green City Commissioner Sue Parrigin is the head of the local Complete Count Census Committee, which is working to promote census self-reporting in Warren County.
The foreign-born population “is part of our community, and they need resources, too,” she said of the need to count this population.
Millions of dollars in federal funding are based on census counts.
Parrigin said having Becker and an international communities liaison office gives Bowling Green an advantage over most smaller cities that don’t have such an office.
Becker “is a powerful voice out to our international communities,” she said.
The committee has at its disposal census materials in various languages. The city has also produced videos in about 10 different languages spoken in Bowling Green and has been showing them online and via social media. Becker has also used regular meetings of various international groups to promote the census, and the Complete Count Census Committee has representatives from a broad cross section of the community, including entities such as local school systems and large employers that are in contact with local nonnative populations.
Like Becker, Parrigin said she is hopeful that more in-person census promotion may start as society continues to reopen.
The self-reporting period has been extended because of the pandemic to Oct. 31. Census workers across the country are also slated to go out into communities starting Aug. 11 to try to count people who have not responded.
As of Friday, Bowling Green had a self-reporting rate of 56.2 percent. The state self-response rate was 64.6 percent and the national rate was 60.6 percent.