To date, 96.8% of North Carolinians have responded to the census. However, officials say every person counts.
"That small percent we're missing is equivalent to 600,000 individuals. We're talking about close to $11 billion a year in census-guided funding that our state could be missing for what seems like a small percentage of people," said Stacey Carliss, executive director of the NC Counts Coalition. "That money impacts everything from road construction, repairing a pothole in your neighborhood, all the way down to making sure kids receive a healthy, nutritious school lunch or breakfast.
The NC Counts Coalition is a nonprofit that works closely with the Census Bureau to count communities considered hard to count due to the percentage of historically marginalized communities, renters versus homeowners and young children. According to Carliss, Cumberland County is one of 15 counties statewide that fall in that category.
COVID-19 restrictions grounded outreach efforts across Cumberland County, which forced officials to cancel and alter boots-on-the-ground community engagement.
Cumberland County community engagement coordinator Nakiya Smith said what makes the county hard to count is the high concentration of African Americans, Latino and Hispanic residents, Native Americans, children under 6 years old and renters.
"Our large renter population here happens to be the U.S. Army. They don't connect to Cumberland County or feel rooted here because this may not be their home," said Smith.
The community benefits most when the census is able to count everyone. NC Counts Coalition officials said a major challenge in getting communities of color counted is distrust for the government.
"Take it back as early as the first census where African Americans were considered 3/5 of a person. We've been undercounted since then. Things like systematic racism continuously plague our communities," said Smith.