CALS Helps Communities Complete the Census

Raising Arkansas Beyond Our 57% Response Rate on the 2020 U.S. Census

If you see cheerful staff members in CALS masks walking around outdoors, using iPads to interview people, that’s the sight of your library system hard at work on the U.S. Census.

The 2020 U.S. Census contains only seven questions and usually takes about five minutes to complete.

As of July 2020, Arkansas only has a 57% response rate. Almost half of the households in Arkansas haven’t responded to the Census.

CALS is helping people complete the Census

Our staff is reaching out into the community with iPads and wi-fi hotspots provided by a grant from the American Library Association. This year, people can complete the census online or on paper, so CALS staff can help individuals through the process using iPads or other digital devices. For safety, CALS staff is masked and gloved during this community outreach.

The deadline for the Census has been extended until October 31 to allow for the effects of the pandemic.

A low response rate will have negative consequences for our state

If we don’t get an accurate Census count, everyone in Arkansas will lose out on federal funding for hospitals, roads, Medicaid, schools, and poverty relief programs. Even members of the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated to states based on Census numbers. A large portion of the state budget comes from these federal dollars, which represent tax money being returned to Arkansas instead of going to another state.

The pandemic has affected participation in the 2020 Census, but there are other reasons why people don’t participate.

Easing worries about the Census

According to the official Census website, one major reason people don’t fill out the Census is fear. Many are afraid that the data will somehow be misused. This census year is particularly difficult for the Latinx community because of partisan efforts months ago to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Though that effort failed and there is no citizenship question on the Census, the fear of potential misuse may linger.

Maria Aguilar, CALS Community Liaison to the Latinx community, is very concerned about the risk of low participation in the census by Spanish-speaking peoples. But when she goes out into the community with her iPads and addresses people in Spanish, some of that discomfort can be erased.

“When they see someone they already know who speaks their language,” Aguilar said, “it helps them trust that the information won’t be misused.”

Aguilar can explain to community members that Census information often assists anti-discrimination programs and helps provide resources for Spanish speakers and their children.

On two recent visits to the CALS Dee Brown Library, Aguilar was able to collect over 40 Census responses from library visitors.

Census information preserves family history

Also assisting in the CALS Census initiative is Jessica McDaniel, CALS Community Liaison to the Black community.

McDaniel points out that the 2020 Census is important not only for funding today’s vital programs and infrastructure, but also for future generations.

“I was able to find out information about my grandmother’s great-grandparents via US Census documents,” McDaniel said. “It has meant a lot to our family.”

Newly hired Community Outreach Coordinator Courtney Frazier Jones will also be participating in the planning and information-gathering process. The team will continue to reach out to locations in the community where they can be most effective in gathering Census information, while still remaining safe under pandemic guidelines.

How You Can Help:

  • If you have a tip for a good location where CALS staff may be able to collect Census responses, please email Mark Christ at
  • Encourage your neighbors to respond to the Census. Remind them that it will only take five minutes, and their answers are simple and safe.
  • Spread the word that there are only seven questions on the Census and none are related to citizenship. The questions about race and Hispanic origin are designed to support anti-discrimination programs and other services for the benefit of racial and ethnic communities. These are the seven questions on the 2020 Census: AGE, RACE, SEX, RELATIONSHIP STATUS, HISPANIC ORIGIN, RENTER, OWNER

Please let your neighbor know how easy it is to respond to the Census! Together, we can #CompletetheCount for Arkansas.

To complete the Census by phone, call 1-844-330-2020.

feature by Rosslyn Elliott