CH@T: County’s 2020 Census leader reflects on count, and what’s next


The 2020 Census count is over, the work of the Chatham County team is mostly done — but the results are still to come, delayed by the pandemic. This week, we speak with Courtney Cooper-Lewter, who served as the Chatham County Complete Count Committee chairperson for the duration of the 2020 Census. Cooper-Lewter works as the management analyst for the County Manager’s Office collaborating on various projects. Even though the 2020 Census has ended, Cooper-Lewter says she’s happy she has the opportunity to continue serving Chatham County.

Let’s start with what we know about the data from the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau’s plan was to have that first round of redistricting data delivered by March 31. Then came COVID. What’s the plan and timeline now?

On Feb. 12, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it will deliver the state population counts for apportionment to the president by April 30th, which — due to the pandemic — is later than the usual deadline of December 31st. Apportionment is the division of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states based on population. In an effort to get this data to the President as quickly as possible, the U.S. Census Bureau has had to delay other efforts such as generating the redistricting counts. The U.S. Census Bureau expects to deliver redistricting data to the states and public by September 30th.

So what will we know by Sept. 30, the new “single national delivery” date?

The U.S. Census Bureau data will include counts of the state’s population by race, ethnicity (Hispanic or Latino origin), voting age, housing occupancy status, and group quarters population at smaller levels including towns and counties.

The Chatham County Complete Count Committee spent more than a year encouraging the community’s participation in the census as this data impact our funding for programs like Medicaid and Head Start and our planning for schools, roads, hospitals and more.

Did the cyberattack on the county’s computer network impact your work at all?

Thankfully, the 2020 Census came to an end before the cyber incident, and it did not impact the ability to get Chatham County residents counted. However, the incident impacted the Complete Count Committee’s ability to conduct an internal assessment on its activities. The committee was able to complete its assessment in early March.

As for Chatham County … what did response rates look like?

Chatham County did a great job completing the 2020 Census despite all of the many challenges we were faced with last year. We do not have the overall response rate yet. However, we do know that 70.8% of Chatham County residents completed the 2020 Census online, by mail or by phone. This self-response rate is 4.1% higher than that of 2010.

And the overall response rate?

As for the overall response rate, I have gotten some conflicting information about when we will get those final results, but I anticipate that they will likely become available on September 30, 2021.

What kind of feedback did you, your volunteers and Census workers get throughout the process?

Here’s a summary:

• We received feedback for the need for Spanish-speaking Census workers. Hiring was actually done on a regional level and other than promoting and encouraging folks to apply, the Complete Count Committee did not have much influence on who was hired.

• We received great feedback about the bilingual media toolkit, which included flyers, social media and other communications materials in many languages.

• We also received positive feedback about the ease of the online census form and how quickly you could complete the 2020 Census.

• Before COVID-19 was present in our community, I received great feedback about our in-person presentations that we conducted in communities across the county. Myself and another Complete Count Committee member created a bilingual presentation about the 2020 Census. Before the pandemic, we were able to give six presentations to different community groups throughout the county. These groups included Latinx youth, English language learners, employees at nearby businesses, and a genealogy group. At one presentation, I met one woman beforehand, and she told me that she would not preemptively fill out her census, that she would wait until a census worker came to her door. After the presentation, she stated how she had a better understanding of the census, and she would complete it as soon as it became available.

You and your committee have accomplished a lot: a Census hiring event, in-person Census information sessions, youth Census training, creating a bilingual media toolkit, social media posts, putting out water bill inserts, poster and flyer distribution, creating activity packets for homebound seniors and youth, and more. As you look back on this work, what do you think you’ll remember most, or be most proud of?

The 2020 Census definitely did not pan out the way that the Complete Count Committee initially planned or imagined. As I look back on our collaboration and work, the thing I will remember most is everyone’s continued commitment to Chatham County and making sure that we secure the resources our community deserves. Despite the challenging times, committee members still showed up and pivoted to continue encouraging Chatham County residents to complete the 2020 Census in creative and new ways.

Based on a recent survey I conducted with the Complete Count Committee, members rated our community engagement efforts a 4.2 out of 5 stars and rated their overall experience a 4.6 out of 5 stars.

What work remains for the committee?

The remaining work for the committee is to reflect on our experience and to work promoting the results of the 2020 Census. If we did not receive a 100% overall response rate this time around, we want to set ourselves up to obtain that for 2030!



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