Making sense of the Census
Everything you need to know about the 2020 count (and why it matters)
The new year is rapidly approaching, bringing with it a new decade, a major election and the chance for the U.S. government to take official tabs on who is living here.
Yes, 2020 is a Census year, and while it won’t start until spring, the head count, which takes place every 10 years, has been in the headlines for months. That’s in no small part due to President Donald Trump’s plan to ask whether respondents, their families and housemates are citizens of the United States.
Let’s just nip that misconception in the bud, shall we? The U.S. Supreme Court in June batted down the administration’s justification, with the majority of the nine-justice panel agreeing the reason for the question “appears to have been contrived.” So as of Dec. 19, whether you are a citizen of the U.S. will not be something you will have to answer.
Here’s a look at some of the other questions you may have about the decennial tally, and why it’s important to participate.
** Related content: Census gears up in Southeast **
What are we talking about here?
The Census is a head count of every person living in the United States and its five territories (for the record, those are Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Marina Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
It provides the demographic data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers and many others use to provide services, products and support, according to the U.S. Census website.
Starting in the next few months, every household in the country will receive an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire. And it’s that questionnaire that constitutes the count.
The U.S. Constitution mandates the government take the tabulation every 10 years. This 2020 Census will be the 24th since 1790.
— Source: 2020census.gov
And why should I care?
Well, for one thing you’re legally obligated to. But more importantly, because the feds divvy up roughly $880 billion each year into education, health care and other programming, based on each state’s population. With an accurate count of its booming population, Colorado’s coffers could gain about $2,300 per person, Mayor John Suthers said during a media event in October.
That’s the macro, so what about the micro? Here in El Paso County, an average of 65,214 residents received just shy of $8 million in food assistance per month as of August of this year. And a good chunk of those dollars came from the feds.
It so happens that the U.S. government bases that financial support on population, so a higher number of residents could mean the city, county and state collect more dollars that, in turn, benefit more residents.
Southeast is historically one of the city’s most under-tallied areas. So to make sure this area — and, OK, the rest of Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Colorado — gets every dollar it is due, it’s critical that everyone fills out the form.
— Sources: Mayor John Suthers; El Paso County Financial Services Department, 2020 proposed budget; 2020Census.gov
Do I really count?
As noted above, you, your family members, your roommates … everyone in your home matters.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of filling out the Census and providing an accurate count,” Suthers said this fall. “Even a 1.3 percent swing in either direction could make a difference in how many congressional seats Colorado has in the 2020s and how much [federal] funding it could get.”
Here’s why: The 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are divvied up according to the size of each state’s population. More residents means a larger delegation. Suthers estimated that if 100 percent of the city and county were counted, we could top a population of 500,000. And that, he said, could be the tipping point to add an eighth member to Colorado’s delegation. Since Colorado Springs is the second most-populous city in the state it’s not out of the realm of possibility that eighth representative could come from our area.
— Sources: Mayor John Suthers; 2020Census.gov
What will I be asked?
The questionnaire will be quick and relatively straight-forward, according to the Census website. You should expect to be asked a series of basic demographic questions related to the following topics:
• How many people will be living or staying at your home as of April 1, 2020.
• Whether you own or rent your home.
• The gender of each person living in the home.
• The age of each person in your home.
• The race of each person in your home (again, not the citizenship status).
• Whether a person or persons in your home is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.
• The relationship of each person in your home.
The U.S. Census Bureau absolutely won’t ask you for: your Social Security number, money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party, or your bank or credit card numbers.
The questions were derived from a list that the bureau submitted to Congress on March 29, 2018. The goal is to get a feel for not just how many people are living in the country, but for the socio-economic, cultural and gender makeup of this ever-changing nation of ours.
— Source: 2020census.gov
You convinced me. How do I do it?
There’s kind of a classic image associated with the Census — that of a friendly government employee going door-to-door with a clip board and a list of questions. Well, the process has become much more 21st-century this time around.
Starting in 2020, residents will have the opportunity to complete their surveys online, by phone or by mail. This marks the first time the county will have a digital option, which according to the Census site, is mobile-friendly.
That being said, Census takers are also going to be very much out and about, especially in rural areas.
— Source: 2020census.gov