Georgia’s body count matters


You thought this column would be about the coronavirus pandemic, right? Wrong!

I’m writing to remind you all of another very important issue that should be dominating the headlines this year – the 2020 Census. You’ve seen the signs, the television ads, the mailers: “Count me in!”, “Every 1 counts!” “Stand and be counted!” etc., but these campaigns are far more than a marketing ploy to get your personal information.

The Census is our government’s way of figuring out what money goes where based on population in both Georgia and Pierce County. If we don’t complete the census and be counted, we’ll be throwing money away – funds that could greatly impact education, infrastructure and health care in our community.

Residents of some states caught on quick. They’re not throwing money away.  Idaho currently has a 97.5 percent census response rate. Other states with nearly 100 percent response rate include West Virginia (95.4 percent), Washington (93.8 percent), Kansas (93.3 percent), and Oregon (92.8 percent).

How are we doing here at home? Not too good. Right now,  Georgians are having a hard time breaking the 75 percent census response rate. Alabama is the only state in the nation ranking lower in 2020 census participation than Georgia.

Why?  What makes our state less likely to participate?

I work with a lot of data and numbers, both qualitative and quantitative, and often find patterns.  Every year the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes a Kids Count Data Book which ranks overall child well-being for each state.  Georgia – along with 7 out of 10 of the lowest census reporting states – also all rank in the bottom 25 percent for overall child well-being.  

Data in the 2019 Civic Health Index report is telling as well.  This report, released every five years,  ranks civic engagement in each state.  Often the higher a state performs in these rankings the better the state ranks in other categories ranging from economic health to education standards achievement, physical and mental health. Georgia reports 17 out of the 21 total rankings below the national average, and 12 of those 17 are in the very bottom 25 percent in the nation.  

These civic engagement rankings include: voting, voter registration, volunteering, donating to a charitable organization, doing favors for neighbors, contacting or visiting a public official, and discussing political or societal concerns with neighbors. 

What happened to the friendly South?  We’re ranked 50th in the nation for both “frequently hearing from or spending time with family or friends” and “frequently talking with or spending time with neighbors”. 

As I was studying the states that ranked highest in the Civic Health Index, I noticed the highest rankings among them were in the “spending time with family” and “volunteering” categories.  What a beautiful legacy they are leaving the children in their state, one of generational selflessness.

The correlation between these three rankings are telling a story to which we need to pay attention.  Georgia is a great place to live, but we are failing to move forward in several quality of life metrics.  As we decline in basic civility, we bring our children with us. 

If for no other reason than creating a brighter future for our children, I challenge you to find someone, anyone, who has not filled out their Census and encourage them to do so.  Our children, our seniors, our civil servants, our educators, will thank you.  

Who knows? Perhaps when the next Civic Health index report comes out (in 2024) along with that year’s Kids Count Data Book, we can say “Wow, look at how our numbers improved! All that funding from the Census count sure has helped.”  

For more information visit The 2020 census can be completed online, by phone or by mail.

• Stephanie Bell is Executive Director of Pierce County Family Connection.