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The Census: What it is and why you need to be counted

The Census: What it is and why you need to be counted

Federal Funding and Representation are Dependent on Census Results

Did you know that taking a national census is a requirement laid out in the Constitution?

Article 1, Section 2 mandates that the population must be counted every 10 years. This year marks the 24th time the United States has conducted a census since 1790. So, not only is it a good idea to take this snapshot of our nation, but it is also the law. In addition, it is also the law that the Census Bureau may not disclose any personal information gathered in the census, so there is no excuse for you not to stand up and be counted.

What is counted? The population of all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Why is it so important for everyone to be counted? The results of the census determine the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding. The results will affect where new hospitals and clinics will be built, where new schools should go, where to put additional services for the elderly, for families and for children. The results also will determine the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives and how the congressional and legislative districts will be drawn in the next decade. Businesses refer to census data to determine where to build new plants and service centers, what areas to advertise in and where to focus hiring efforts.

According to Sarah Stubblefield, senior planner with the City of Arlington, in the 2010 census the population numbers were underreported by an estimated one percent, which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, that one percent translates into a loss of $3 billion for Medicaid alone!

It is estimated that 1 million children under the age of four were not reported, leading to a loss in federal funding for services for women and children, including funds for education and Head Start programs. Texas is the third-largest recipient of federal funding, behind California and New York, and Texas stands to receive an estimated $60 billion in federal funds over the next decade as a result of the 2020 census. These funds will be targeted for schools and other educational services, small businesses and non-profits. Under-reporting hurts the very people who need the funds the most.

Why do people under-report or not report at all? Many are either fearful of, or lack trust in, the government, said Stubblefield. This fear leads to under-reporting. For instance, immigrant families that come from cultures where multigenerational living is common may not report the true household size on census forms because many leases forbid such living arrangements here in the United States. As such, instead of reporting 10 to 12 people of various ages, they might only report a husband, wife and child. This under-reporting has serious consequences for that segment of the population that is under-counted. Even more serious is not reporting at all, which leads to a reduction in federal funding for much-needed programs for new immigrants, children and the elderly.

The census serves as a “snapshot in time” of the population of the United States, the concentration of people based on age, gender and ethnicity. The reason these questions are asked is because the answers will help determine if additional services are needed in different parts of the country for women, for example, or perhaps a certain area might be well-suited for certain outreach programs—such as language—based on ethnicity. There are questions on home ownership that aid in determining the economic status of various parts of the country, state or county.

All of the questions will aid in statistical information about the demographics of the United States as a whole, as well as about each state and territory. The information can be used at the “macro” level, meaning that decisions about the U.S. as a whole can be made based on census date. “Micro” information also can be revealed, giving the ability to drill down to the state level, the city level or even a given zip code level, to get the information the government needs to provide the right services for its populace.

Do you think your neighborhood needs a new “Head Start” program? Fill out the census! Have you been complaining about needing new or upgraded roads and highways? Fill out the census! Do you wish there were a good hospital or urgent care center near you? Fill out the census! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So, if you missed the chance to send in your response, don’t be surprised to receive a phone call or a knock on your door. And, now that you know the facts, stand up and be counted! You’ll be glad you did.

Find more information about the 2020 census.