Preparations for the 2020 Census are underway, and a group of community leaders gathered Tuesday for the first meeting of Mexico's complete count committee. The committee provides information to the public and develops strategies to encourage census participation.

Mexico in 2010 had an 82% response rate to the census, according to Census Bureau data. The national average is 74%. The state's response rate matches the national average.

Census Partnership Specialist Michael Amantea briefed the newly formed committee on its purpose and ways to strategize for the self-reporting period starting in March. Complete count committees operate in much the same way as Get Out the Vote campaigns. They are about disseminating information. Members of the committee include Mayor Ayanna Shivers, Mexico School District's Public Relations Officer Marci Minor, Moberly Area Community College Mexico Education Center Director Caroline Groves, Mexico-Audrain Library District Director Christal Bruner and other community leaders and Mexico city employees.

"The main objective of this training is to talk about the who, what, when, where, why and how of complete count committees and that is you guys," Amantea said.

Committees have two main goals. The first is to educate and engage Mexico residents in participating in the census as well as informing residents on the effects participating will have on the community. Committees also use their local knowledge to identify hard-to-count groups, which can then be a focus to get an accurate record for the census.

"You guys are a think tank. There are no requirements that [the Census Bureau] has of you. It's really up to you to determine how you feel you can best reach the people in your community. [The bureau isn't] a member of the community. We don't necessarily understand your citizens the way that you do," Amantea said.

The 2020 census will be available in 59 languages and is comprised of 10 questions. The 2020 census is not a longform questionnaire as in previous census years. The 2020 census will have three options for self-reporting — online, over-the-phone or by mail. Those who opt to complete the census online can do so in about four minutes, Amantea said.

Self-reporting will be available from March until the middle of May. After that, census employees known as enumerators will come to the community to try to complete census responses from those who have not self-reported. Bureau employees already are compiling address data to make sure they have a complete picture of the number of households in a community before enumerators start collecting data.

The Census Bureau also will take a one-day snapshot of census data April 1 known as Census Day. The reason the data from April 1 is important is because it gives an idea of how many people are living within a particular community on that day, such as college students or children who may shuffle between homes.

Census data is protected by Title XIII laws. Data collected cannot be released or used for law enforcement or code enforcement. Exact census data, such as name, age, occupation is embargoed by law for 72 years. General census data is a statistical aggregate of an area, rather than exact identifying information.

Census data determines governance and funding for a community. Missouri is in a unique position in that it is not known if the state will gain or lose congressional representation and electoral college votes based on population data from the 2020 census. The state lost one congressional district after the 2010 census, leading to districts being redrawn to incorporate rural areas into urban districts. This led to competing interests within the mixed districts.

An accurate picture of population also determines how much federal funding an area can receive through loans, grants, or general support, such as for public school districts. Without an accurate count, for example, a school district may receive less in federal funding than it actually needs to operate.

The Census puts a focus on harder-to-count populations, such as college students, children under age five, homeless population, indigenous populations, and others. Using past census data, the bureau is able to determine populations it predicts will be harder to count.

The north half of Mexico is predicted to have a lower response rate to the census compared to the southern half of the city, with the dividing line roughly where railroad tracks pass through town.

The Mexico committee already is starting its work. Census Bureau and complete count committee representation will be at the Relay for Life on Saturday in the downtown square and the committee, currently chaired by Shivers, is working to arrange the next meeting.