Walton County pushes the importance of census responses with lowest response rate in the Panhandle

Local News

This Sunday, April 5, 2020, letter shows a Census form mailed to a resident in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Every 10 years. The U.S. government sends out an official census to get an accurate count of how many people are in an area.

This count is important for determining how much money in federal funding goes to that area. An accurate count of residents is important to the future planning of things like hospitals, fire department, education and infrastructure.

For example, Walton County public information officer Louis Svehla said that it could affect Northwest Florida College, the local college in Defuniak Springs. 

“They are constantly looking to find out what programs they need to offer, what kind of degrees do they need to have based on the workforce and the businesses coming in,” Svehla said.

If a census shows many new, young families with children moving through the education system coming into the area, said Svehla, this could indicate that the college needs to expand.

The census also affects the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives and is imperative to the future economic growth of an area. As much of Walton County’s economy is driven by tourism, Walton County economic alliance executive director Bill Imfeld says that a more accurate census count can hopefully lead to a more diversified economy.

“We compete for a number of jobs around the country, and one of the first things they ask is ‘do you have the infrastructure and do you have the workforce?’ And we’ve had such a low unemployment rate lately that it doesn’t show that we’ve got that adequate workforce,” Imfeld said. “So we need to have as full a participation as possible so we can demonstrate to other people that we’re here, we’ve got the bodies you need, bring those jobs.”

The last census in 2010 recorded approximately 55,000 residents in Walton County. Predictions now have its population at around 74,000.

Officials say that Walton County is the fifth fastests growing county based on percentages of residents in the country. It also has one of the lowest census response rates at 30.3%.

It ranks 63rd out of 66 counties in Florida, with the highest response rate being 68.4% in Sumpter County.

In total, Florida has a 60.5% response rate.

Svehla said that the low response rate could be because there have been less on-the-ground efforts to induce responses because of the coronavirus social distancing and sheltering in place orders.

Each resident, regardless of official state residency based on driver’s license or state ID, should fill out a census. Censuses should be limited to one per household. 

You can fill out a census online, by phone, or by mail. 

For more information visit www.my2020census.gov

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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