While recently discussing the city’s hopes and plans for 2020, Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser said a potential undercount of the state’s population on the upcoming U.S. Census is one of his greatest concerns as the city enters a new decade.
“The [Census] is coming up, which could mean a lot to our state. If it isn’t accurate, it could mean a loss of a House Seat, as well as a tremendous loss of federal funds. I hate to see [another state] pick up one of our seats,” Chesser said.
The Census happens every 10 years, and counting every single person living in the country is a monumental task, especially in rural and remote areas with large numbers of renters without access to the Internet.
The count is so critical that U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) brought U.S. Census Director Steven Dillingham to Cullman in August to discuss it with Alabamians.
“Census data is used to determine nearly half of $1 trillion in federal funding that is spent each year on services and infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, senior centers, emergency services, bridges and other public works projects,” Aderholt said.
“A new school to ease overcrowded classrooms. A new road to ease overcrowded commutes. There are many ways the 2020 Census can shape your community,” information on the Census Bureau website, 2020census.gov, reads. Data also helps communities respond to natural disasters and secure funding for hospitals and fire departments.
There are also enormous political ramifications. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was quoted saying last August that the state could lose two of its seven congressional seats if participation levels match what the state did in 2000. The state had 10 congressional districts just prior to the 1930 Census. Currently, the congressional seats are held by six Republicans and one Democrat.
Each of the nation’s 435 congressional districts represent approximately 747,000 people within the 50 states. If Alabama’s population has decreased, states like Florida and North Carolina are expected to make gains in the Electoral College when congressional seats are reapportioned based on the Census, possibly affecting the 2022 elections, according to Brookings Institution demographer and senior fellow William Frey.
In April and May, Census takers will be reaching out to every address they can find this year, sending forms by regular mail to those who do not respond to the initial invitation to add their information to the Census via telephone or on the Internet.
Those who do not respond to these methods will likely receive a knock on their door, Census director Dillingham said at the August event. He said the Census Bureau will not use information to report people to law enforcement, including non-citizens.
By law, the Census Bureau delivers apportion counts to the President and Congress in December, sending redistricting counts to states by March 31, 2021 and providing the basis for redrawing legislative districts based on population changes.
The Census wants to know:
• How many people are living or staying at your home on April 1, 2020 and the relationship of each person.
• Whether the home is owned or rented.
• About the age and sex of each person in your home.
• About the race of each person in your home and specifically whether a person in your home is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.
The information is used to create estimates about families, households, and other groups for planning and funding government programs that support families, including people raising children alone. These responses help create statistics about ethnic groups needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as those in the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
Responses also produce statistics about homeownership and renting as one indicator of the nation's economy and help in administering housing programs and informing planning decisions. The data can also be used to enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination and to plan and fund government programs that support specific age groups, including children and older adults.
The Census Bureau is encouraging Americans to use their social media profiles to encourage friends and family members to participate in the 2020 Census.
The Census also represents temporary jobs for those who are out of work or looking to earn extra money as census takers, census field supervisors, recruiting assistants, clerks, and office operations supervisors. Most applicants can complete the job application and answer the basic assessment questions in approximately 30 minutes.