By Melissa Mata, CML research analyst
The year 2020 may seem far away, but for the United States Census Bureau, the federal department tasked with the constitutional duty of counting the number of people in the United States, 2020 is just around the corner.
While it is the federal government’s responsibility to perform the census, it is your local community that will be impacted by the results. Data collected by the Census Bureau is used to
- determine the distribution of Congressional seats to states;
- distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds to local, state, and tribal governments each year; and
- redistrict state and local governments and to make planning decisions about community services.
Colorado currently has seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the latest estimates show the state potentially gaining an eighth seat.
In addition to the question of representation, the consequences related to funding are significant. Census datasets factor into the allocation formula for programs such as Medicaid, Highway Planning and Construction, the National School Lunch Program, and Head Start. For each Coloradan not counted in a Census survey, more than $1,000 in funding is estimated to be lost.
Undercounting residents could mean weakening the state’s voice, and the state’s pocketbook.
While it is true that the federal government handles the count, local leaders are essential in ensuring its accuracy. Local governments have the best information with regard to boundaries, housing units, and partner agencies that can act as trusted voices when educating residents about the importance of their participation.
Certain groups are historically “hard to count,” including children under the age of five, residents of rural areas, families who share a household with other families, and individuals, whether born in the United States or elsewhere, who are fearful of how their data will be used.
Important messages for local leaders to share include the reminder that census workers take an oath of office and are committed to keeping information gathered from Census respondents confidential. Violation of this confidentiality is punishable by fine and/or prison time. The data is collected to paint a large picture with statistics, rather than to pinpoint any one individual.
While Census collectors are committed to their task and have several methods to follow up their initial survey, non-response follow-up is time-consuming and costly. The City University of New York has created a map to assist communities in understanding which areas might be categorized as hard-to-count to encourage fortified local outreach in those areas.
For more information about the State Demography Office’s role in supporting the federal government and Colorado communities in the 2020 Census, click here.
The support of local leaders and public servants is vital to the process. CML will continue to share information in the newsletter as the Census Bureau ramps up to 2020, so watch this space!