U.S. Census 2020: Why It Counts
By Caryl Hale
The US national 10-year headcount is scheduled to officially begin on January 21, 2020. A decennial tradition that seems like a blip, some random questionnaire (or even worse, junk mail), receiving seemingly flippant responses has been the focus in the media on a federal and state level over the past year. So, what exactly is the census and when is it? Why is this census important? How is it used, and most importantly, what’s in it for us?
By definition the census is the “Actual Enumeration” of a Constitutional requirement established by the Supreme Court and states the responsibility is on the Congress which delegates responsibility to the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau. The sole purpose of the count is to collect a record of the exact number of people living in the United States by district during a census, rather than using a sampling or estimation. The outcome of this actual enumeration is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place every 10 years.
Historically, the census has been a questionnaire that is a reflection of the concerns and needs of society. The questions on the census change according to those changing needs. Collecting information to accurately record the demographics of communities including accurate records of ethnicity has been an ongoing challenge and priority and has led to more expanded ethnicity listing options.
Census workers, better known as enumerators, will kick off their mission in January 2020 in the village of Toksook Bay, AK (as well as other parts of rural Alaska) while the ground is still frozen enough for door-to-door visits. Beginning in March of 2020, the Census will be in full force in all 50 states with self-response options being made available. Postcards with instructions are scheduled to be sent to 95 percent of homes around the country at this time to guide through the self-response options. Households that do not respond themselves by early April may start to receive visits from enumerators who are trained to conduct census interviews and collect responses using smartphones. (Note: The Census will NOT call or email respondents)
There are hard to count populations in Kansas including homeless populations, Native American reservations, and undocumented populations. Special procedures have been used to address an accurate record of these populations including having onsite enumerators in locations of service providers to these hard to count populations. Also, all data are protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Records are confidential for 72 years by law. All Census Bureau employees swear a lifetime oath to protect respondent information. The penalty for wrongful disclosure is up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000. The Census Bureau also will be conducting special counts for people living in group quarters (college, dormitories, prisons, nursing facilities).
What data is collected and how can people respond to the census?
Eleven questions are asked requesting information including name, relationship to householder, phone number, household tenure (own/rent), age, number of people in the household, sex, usual place of residence, race, citizenship, and Hispanic origin.
The Census Bureau will offer the census form in four ways, online (using the internet or a smartphone), over the telephone (by calling the Census call center listed on the Census postcard), using a paper form, or by responding to a Census enumerator. Census forms will be available in 13 languages. Language guides in video and print will be available in 59 non-English languages as well as American Sign Language, braille, and large print.
Why is it important (National, State, Local)?
The data collected will be used to reset political power and federal funding through 2030 according to population counts. Each state’s share of representatives in Congress, as well as votes in the Electoral College, will be determined for the next decade by these new population counts. Every state “redistricts” in order to maintain an equal number of citizens between districts. Each person represents a provides a level of representation of the places where they live. The absence of a person in the census count costs the state in political representation. An accurate count equals a well-funded country with factual representation.
In addition, the Census counts are used to distribute more than $880 billion a year in federal funds for Medicare, schools and other public services, states receive. Every year in Kansas this federal money represents $6 billion dollars distributed for state programs. This translates to $2,082 per person per year.
These dollars help fund: education,
school lunch programs, Head Start programs, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), transportation, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), access to broadband services in rural areas.
Republic County Economic Development director Luke Mahin’s comments speak for economic development interests around rural Kansas, “Republic County Economic Development feels an accurate Census count is paramount to our organization in strategic planning efforts assisting individual cities with quality of life resources. The North Central Regional Planning Commission uses this data for community development grant work and has also been a leader in bringing high-speed internet to the NCK region decades ago. Every leveraged federal and state dollar matters with our limited resources.”
What is different? (Changes in technology, the “Citizenship Question”, and Governor Kelly’s Complete Count Committee)
Concerns over the 2020 Census due to funding and technological changes have been in the news for the past few years. The Census Bureau had not received funding typical of the past years to account for inflation adjustment. To provide a more cost-effective option for administering the census, the Census Bureau has implemented the use of mobile technology, geospatial innovations, and internet self-response.
Cyber security has been a growing concern while using this technology especially without thorough testing and little to no increase in funding for 2018 to do such testing.
The current political climate surround-
ing immigration has also increased
concerns of conducting an accurate count of undocumented populations. The “Citizenship Question” proposed to be added to the census for the 2020 Census, further complicates the public perception of the intent to collect such data.
Critics of the citizenship question argue its inclusion could cause a decline in response to the census, resulting in an undercount of minority communities and costing those locations congressional seats and the loss of federal and state funding. The question itself has had a history of cycling on and off the census questionnaire depending on various priorities of data collection at the time. The US Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the question in July.
From a state perspective, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has taken steps within the first 100 days of office to establish a committee tasked with increasing statewide awareness of the upcoming census. Through Executive Order, Governor Laura Kelly established the Kansas Complete Count Committee to ensure that every Kansan is represented in the 2020 Census.
“Next year, on April 1, I encourage Kansans to respond to the Census, and be sure to count everyone living in your household,” Kelly said. “That includes children and newborn babies. Everyone needs to be counted. The data collected in the Census informs how the federal government distributes funds to our state – through 55 different federal programs. And it’s these funds that help to pay for roads, schools, hospitals, emergency services and much more.”
Contact Caryl Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org. A special thank you to Xan Wedel, Kansas State Data Center lead and Senior Research Data Engineer at KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research for providing census resources and data contained in the article.