People matter, and where they live matters when it comes to the U.S. census.
As the end of the year rolls around, hundreds of thousands of census workers will be knocking on doors to help people fill out their census forms—and it’s important that everyone participate.
Why it matters
“The census is one of the most fundamental activities that we do,” said Dennis Johnson, deputy regional director of the Dallas Area of the U.S. Census Bureau, which also serves Nebraska. “It started back with the Constitution.”
The U.S. Consitution required a complete census, or count of the people, to be completed within three years of the Constitution’s adoption and once every decade after that—since 1790—“to make sure we have equal representation among all of our states,” Johnson said. “The number of representatives (in Congress) is based on the population of each state.”
The census, however, does much more.
It determines districts for seats for state legislatures, local city councils and school districts.
It’s also used to divide funding for necessary programs like education, transporation and medical and senior services.
“It has expanded its use over the last centuries. It’s become very critical,” Johnson said.
If people don’t participate in the census, Johnson said they risk losing all those things.
“You’re not going to be represented well,” Johnson said. “You may not receive all the representation you deserve, but what affects people every day, they may not get the funding they need for schools, roads and highways or health care, especially in faster growing areas.”
Johnson is based in Irving, Texas, but the Dallas Area of the Census Bureau serves 12 states throughout the Midwest, including Nebraska.
His region is one of six, and he said the populations among the six regions are relatively comparable, though their geographical constructs vary.
He said that even if filling out a census form isn’t high on a person’s priority list, their neighbors are depending on them.
He used Farmers Branch, Texas, where he’s from, as an example.
“I look at it as a community effort. I want to make sure that Farmers Branch gets all that it deserves, so to speak,” Johnson said. “I know we’re doing this all over the country. We have a population of young kids. They need books and they need school lunches and they need teachers. I don’t want to get in a couple years after the census and find out we don’t have enough. The same is true for transportation and medical costs.”
Supreme Court ruling
On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a question about a person’s citizenship could not be added to the census.
“Based on today’s decision, the citizenship question cannot go forward until the administration provides a legally justifiable reason to add a citizenship question to the census,” according to a press release from Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit that fights for equal rights among Nebraskans.
Despite the ruling, President Donald Trump has since instructed the Department of Commerce to add the question anyway, which could skew census numbers if those without legal citizenship choose not to complete a census form for fear of being located and deported.
The New York Times reported July 3 that the Department of Justice and Department of Commerce said the census is being printed without the question, heeding the court’s ruling, though Trump has not dropped the issue.
Nebraska Appleseed’s press release said the “untested citizenship question undermines the goal of the census to count all residents, with real consequences for Nebraska.”
It said an undercount in 2010 cost Nebraska roughly $1,109 per person per year in five medical support programs from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
A member of Johnson’s staff at the Dallas Area bureau said the bureau would not comment on the ruling.
You can help
The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring thousands of people to help conduct the census.
Johnson said they have started intense recruitment efforts for each region. In the Dallas/Midwest area, the bureau has 50 offices.
“Each have to have a staff for administrative tasks,” he said. “We have supervisors that report to the 50 offices and support staff that help with payroll and recruiting.”
Then, more people are hired to knock on doors and help others fill out the forms.
“We will hire 75,000 to 100,000 people to work out of their homes to help people fill out and complete the census,” Johnson said. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Census workers must be at least 18 years old. Each must go through a screening process to check for a history of any issues that might cause a problem for them either working in an office or working with residents in their areas, and they have to be available at specific times.
Johnson said collecting census data can take as little as six weeks or up to 13 weeks in some areas.
Bringing it all together
Johnson said Title 13 of the U.S. Code, known as the Census Law, requires that a count of the population for each state be turned in to the president and Congress by Dec. 31, 2020.
“After that date, we will provide more detailed information. Ages, racial and ethnic makeup,” he said, among other statistics. “Those things will all flow out as we progress through the process.”
Then, since a lot could change over the next 10 years, the bureau will gather more current data from year to year using surveys on a smaller scale.
“Those are used to update characteristics of the population. Poverty levels, income levels, employment levels,” he said.
“We need everybody to be a part of this. Every household. This is all of us joining together.”