Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Efforts to avoid rural undercounts in 2020 census could help bridge the rural-urban digital divide

Efforts to increase compliance with the 2020 census could help bridge the rural-urban digital divide, Zack Quaintance reports for Governing.

Next year's decennial census will be the first to rely primarily on citizens filling out forms online. But many rural residents don't have reliable, affordable high-speed internet access at home, which means their areas are at higher risk of being undercounted. States, volunteers and various rurally focused nonprofits are trying to boost broadband connectivity in rural areas since they understand that undercounting means less federal funding and, potentially, less representation, Quaintance reports.

"They must essentially perform digital equity work in the name of the census," Quaintance reports. "It’s a heavy lift, to be sure, but many say there is a silver lining — digital equity work for the census can be executed in a way that has a lasting impact on under-served communities for years to come. Initiatives such as technology training sessions for the census can teach seniors, recent immigrants and others valuable skills to help them thrive in other ways in our increasingly digital world."

Public libraries could take on an important role in such efforts, both as a source of internet education for seniors and others, and as a place where those who don't have other internet access can complete the Census. Learning how to use the internet could be a springboard to other opportunities, said Sheryl Knab, executive director of the Western New York Library Resources Council. She noted that a library patron who learns how to use a computer to complete the Census might feel more comfortable coming back to the library later to apply for a job online. Simply put, she told Quaintance, "that might open doors for them to come back and work with staff on other things."

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