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The Count

What to expect in the 2020 Census

October 25, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Editor's Note: Staff Writer Amy H. Peterson attended a fellowship to learn about reporting on the U.S. Census at the Poynter Institute in March. This is part of her continuing work on how the 2020 U.S. Census will impact Emmet County, Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, and the state of Iowa.

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Ninety-five percent of U.S. households will receive a letter in the mail between about March 12 and March 20, 2020 from the U.S. Census bureau with an invitation to respond online to the census. Reminder letters and postcards will follow until just before the first of May when census workers will begin following up in person.

The bureau states it will work with the U.S. Postal Service to stagger the delivery of the invitations over a week in order to spread the number of users responding online, and to serve residents better if help is needed over the phone.

Kaile Bower, Decennial Communication and Coordination manager for the U.S. Census Bureau said the goal of the census is counting every person living in the United States and its territories as of April 1. A baby born April 2 will not be counted.

"Since the beginnings of the nation, the census has been the method used to count everyone once, only once and in the right place," Bower said. That number has reached 330 million people in 140 million housing units. It's the largest civilian mobilization in the nation.

Why respond to the census?

For one thing, it's required by law.

The U.S. Constitution provides for the census to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, $700 billion or more is distributed based on data sets derived from the decennial census. This includes school lunch, Section 8 housing, WIC, LIHEAP, Project LEAP.

Also, it's only seven questions.

Seven questions: age, sex, Hispanic/Latino origin, race, how are people related, is the home owned or rented, is the person a citizen of the U.S., and a set of operational questions of how many people are in the home.

The 2020 census form will ask just seven data questions. Detailed questions about income, education, commuting, housing value and more are asked on the American Community Survey distributed in off-years.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the self-response rate the number of people who will respond to one of the mailings from the bureau and answer all the questions online, is 60.5 percent.

John Thompson, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said, "This is an extremely important parameter because this is what the anticipated workload is based on."

Thompson said a significant shortfall would mean that the Bureau will not have recruited a sufficient workforce to complete the census on schedule. The Bureau prefers a high rate of self-reporting because self-response data is generally viewed as more accurate than data collected by census workers.

Thompson said it's important to write down all of the children in the household. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a sponsor of the Poynter fellowship on the census, said the undercount of children under the age of five is a systemic problem that has been measured at about five percent through the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses. It's larger for Hispanic and other non-white populations, presenting a major problem for all members of their communities. Undercount of babies and children affects planning for school districts and in communities where the child population is growing, can make a major difference in school funding and other factors. Undercounting children also affects the calculation of the average age of a community or state. If the youngest children are undercounted, the age will skew older. This affects the ability of communities to recruit younger workers and professionals, to win grants and funding for educational and youth programming, and in the earlier-mentioned funding for WIC, Head Start, and other programs that help young children.

Historically hard-to-count populations include immigrants and refugees, farmworkers, people with disabilities, people who are LGBTQ, areas with low broadband access, veterans, seniors and older adults, children ages 0-5, and households with limited English proficiency.

The nation enjoys a net gain of one person every 15 seconds, thanks to one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11 seconds, plus one international migrant every 34 seconds. Hence, according to the Bureau, the composition of the nation changes many times in a decade.

In a county like Emmet, which has indications of population shrinkage, failure to count each and every individual in this place could not only paint an unnecessarily bleak picture of the community's future, but also affect the distribution of funding and resources to future workers and taxpayers, and affect congressional representation for future voters.

Complete Count Committees are one way the U.S. Census goes local. The closest Complete Count Committees to Emmet County are in Buffalo Center and Sheldon. Complete Count Committees (CCCs) are designed to bring the census local and get the word out in ways and places that fit the way local citizens live. The census is not confined to a solitary session in front of a computer. Technology provides more opportunities for connection, according to Marilyn Stephens, an assistant regional census manager. Imagine a full stadium or auditorium. A committee member steps up to the mic and says, "Okay, everyone, get out your phones," and a large swath of the community fills out the census right there, rising up to be counted and sharing a moment.

In the weeks leading up to the census, the Bureau will be finalizing its security measures. Margo Anderson, distinguished professor emerita of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has written on the development of statistical data systems, including the census, said, "Data goes in to the census bureau; it never comes out. It's not been overridden yet by the Patriot Act. Many agencies want that data, but it has never been released to them. Hence, Anderson said, those concerned about data privacy may rest assured that in over two centuries no one has accessed confidential data from the census.

 
 
 

 

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