The 24th US Census which kicked off on Jan. 21 with enumerators on snowmobiles in Alaska, has come a long way since the first Census Day on Aug 2, 1790, when census marshalls set off on horseback to count the US population in 13 states and four districts, armed with just six questions, at a cost of $44,377.
Today, the 2020 US Census will spend approximately $15.6 billion to count every living person in the US across 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories, using a survey with 9 questions that individuals can answer online, by phone or by mail.
Why does the Census Bureau mount such a massive undertaking to count everyone?
Not only does a constitutional mandate require the country to count its population every ten years, but the first census in 1790 was conducted for the same reasons the census is today.
Census results impact the allocation of congressional seats, electoral votes and how federal funding is distributed in communities across America. It is the single largest civilian government undertaking whose goal is to ensure that “everyone is counted once, only once and in the right place.”
Data sets from the census will decide the shape of your community in the next decade – by determining how you are represented in Congress and by influencing how the federal government decides to invest in the infrastructure of where you live.
That’s why you count!
Each state in the union is given a certain number of congressional seats determined by its population count, and, census data is used to redraw congressional and state legislative districts based upon increases or decreases in its population size.
In 1990 for example, the LAO reports that California was apportioned “one fewer seat in Congress than it was entitled to get and lost an estimated $200 million in federal funding in a single fiscal year,” because the census “undercounted California’s population by 2.784 percent.”
Ensuring that some communities don’t get undercounted is still a major hurdle for the Census Bureau.
“Three-fourths of Californian residents belong to populations that have been historically undercounted,” reports the California Public Policy Institute and that includes children, young men, Latino and African American residents, and renters. “These groups now make up a greater share of California’s population than they did in 2010.”
The County of Santa Clara for example, reported that the 2010 Census undercounted every racial demographic (except for Caucasians), while low-income immigrants and households of color were undercounted due to missing addresses.
Fewer than 7 in 10 households were intending to respond to the next Census in Santa Clara county and in Alameda County, only 58.1% of households mailed back their 2010 census, requiring a costly in person follow-up.
A recent analysis published by the Brookings Institution states that California is also losing residents due to a declining birthrate and as younger families with children migrate out due to unaffordable living costs. In fact California has led the decades-wide decline in youth population experienced by 30 other states.
So, for the first time in history, California is at risk of losing a congressional seat after the 2020 Census.
That’s why your community counts on you.
Your participation in the census has significant implications for your community.
Demographic data from the census will inform how the federal government allocates funds for education, hospitals, housing and highways and in important resources for families, seniors, children and the homeless.
What’s at stake is $76 billion in federal funding for California.
An accurate count means that commuters will benefit from better roads and public transport; there will be additional investment in schools, teachers and programs; and more dollars will go to support critical programs such as food and medical assistance, environmental programs, disaster response and Pell Grants among others.
And, companies will utilize data on population trends to decide where to develop new offices, factories, stores and other businesses which help to drive the economy and create more jobs.
The federal government invests nearly $2,000 per person per year in California. So, it’s important to clearly understand that being counted – and ensuring an accurate count – protects the future of families and communities for the next ten years.
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents
All Media Assets: U.S. Census Bureau