By Mallory Bateman
The Census Bureau took another step into 2020 Census season today with the release of the tagline “Shape your future. START HERE.” This provides us the perfect opportunity to consider what the Census is and why it is important.
If you have about six and a half minutes, we have put together the video to walk you through these topics. If you don’t have that much time, here are some of the highlights:
Since 2010 Census, Utah’s population has surpassed 3 million people, gotten older, and become more diverse racially and ethnically. In order to gain a better understanding of our population, we need a complete count in the 2020 Census. A complete count in 2020 is the bedrock of being able to plan for the next decade. If the 2020 Census is not accurate, we have to wait until 2030 to fix those errors.
What is the census?
The decennial census is a constitutionally mandated count of the entire population and housing units. As per the constitution, this count occurs once every decade. The goal of the decennial census is to count every person once, only once, and in the right place.
What is the point of the census?
The constitutional reason for the decennial census is for apportionment of congressional representation for each state. However, this is not the only reason the decennial census is important.
Why is the 2020 Census important?
This document from the Census Bureau highlights 50 ways that decennial census data are used. The three main areas of focus are:
- The counts are used for national representation, but are also used to determine boundaries for state and local elected officials.
- In FY2016, Utah received nearly $5.7 billion from 55 federal spending programs that are guided by the decennial census.[i]
- Any programs that utilize a ‘per capita’ calculation are likely using census data to calculate that ratio
- Since it is supposed to be a complete count of the population, census data is used as a baseline for projections.
- Businesses, banks, hospitals, public safety entities, schools, transportation authorities, advertising agencies, and a multitude of others use census data to forecast service use, location of developments or investments, etc.
What is different in 2020?
This 2-page document from the Congressional Research Service highlights many of the changes for 2020. We touch on a few that could impact Utah’s complete count below.
- Online response will be the preferred method for the first time. While convenient for many, this could potentially impact responses from those without access to the internet, seniors, or those who do not feel comfortable submitting responses online.
- A citizenship question has been proposed, which many researchers, business entities, non-profit organizations, governmental bodies, Census Bureau committees, former directors, and marketing research believe will cause a significant undercount. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the question in late April.
- Federal funding leading up to 2020 did not increase as it had for prior decennial censuses. This lead to several tests being cancelled which has left some uncertainty as to how everything will unfold.
Fortunately, local entities are stepping up to address potential issues. The State of Utah and several local cities and counties recognize these challenges and opportunities and have created Complete Count Committees. The goal of these committees is to help their communities see the value of the 2020 Census and work toward achieving a more complete count. The State Data Center, located at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, provides technical support to these committees and individuals to aid in their processes. We have also produced an informational video to help highlight key points of the 2020 Census.
Mallory Bateman is a research associate and state data center coordinator at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
[i] GWIPP Counting for Dollars 2020, The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds, published January 30, 2019; https://gwipp.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2181/f/downloads/IPP-1819-3%20CountingforDollars_UT.pdf