What’s The Sense Of The Decennial US Census?

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By: Robert S. Weinroth Palm Beach County Commissioner Dist. 4 Special to the Boca Newspaper

Earlier this month, members of the Board of County Commissioners, led by Mayor Mack Bernard, announced the preparations for the 2020 US Census are underway.

The question asked by many is, why do we really need an accurate count of the number of people are living in the United States?

The census is more than just a head count. It provides a snapshot in time (April 1st) of our country’s population and is a determinant of how legislative seats (federal, state and local) are apportioned.

The number of US House seats remains the same – 435. They are allocated by population and with the steady migration of residents to Florida (we are now the third largest state in the union having overtaken New York). More than likely, Florida will see two new Congressional seats added in 2022 due to the reapportionment that will be required.

Florida had 23 Congressional seats in 2000 growing to 25 in 2002, 27 in 2012 and, presumably our delegation will grow to 29 Members of Congress representing Florida in 2022, The number of US Senators remains fixed at 2.

The additional members of the Congressional delegation translate into additional electors in the Electoral College. In other words, whereas in 2000 Florida had 25 electors (one for each Member of Congress and the US Senate), our state will have 29 electors in 2020 (Florida will not receive the additional Congressional seats, until after reapportionment is completed in 2021).

If that wasn’t enough to make you eager to see every man, woman and child residing in our state on April 1 2020 counted (including aliens and snow-birds who have not flown north), there are multiple other decisions made based on the census numbers.

The distribution of federal and state dollars is directly tied to the census figures.

An undercount of the population could skew data used to determine how our state allocates representation in the legislature and local governmental bodies. It would, likewise, impact how billions of dollars a year are allocated for schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects.

An undercount would also undermine the integrity of economic data used by businesses, researchers and policymakers and make forecasting (e.g., inputs and outputs to beneficiaries of federal and state programs) less accurate.

The US Constitution mandates the government enumerate the number of people (citizens and non-citizens) living in our country every ten years.

In addition to Florida; Texas, Colorado and Oregon are projected to be gaining Congressional seats in 2022 while Illinois, Ohio, New York and West Virginia are among the states expected to lose seats. An undercount could potentially shift those projections.

Once the Congressional seats are apportioned, our state lawmakers will be charged with the task of drawing the new congressional district boundaries. This process can be painful as we saw in the last cycle when the courts forced the maps to be redrawn to make them as party neutral as possible,

The census data will also underpin the state house and senate districts and local boundaries (e.g., single member county, municipal and school boards).

A significant amount of spending decisions depends on accurate census data. In the 2015 fiscal year, 132 federal programs utilized the census data to allocate over $675 billion for programs such as Head Start, Medicare, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Pell grants and reduced-price school lunch programs.

Federal dollars for transportation are apportioned according to census data.

Census data helps companies decide where to locate distribution, where to expand or locate new stores and where they can expect an adequate return on investment.

Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of diseases and health concerns such as cancer and obesity across the United States, including drilling down to identify health patterns across demographics.

Individuals, afraid to participate due to their immigration status or mistrust of how the government will use the collected information, hamper the accuracy of the census.

The cultural and linguistic diversity of our country also impacts accuracy. The potential addition of a citizenship question will make the job of enumerators more difficult if not overturned by the Courts by heightening privacy concerns and reducing participation among those living “off the grid.”

Against these obstacles, it will be important for us to take every step necessary to count every person residing in our county and in our state.

This year, the center of gravity for the process of counting residents will move from the post office to the public library with online responses the most cost effective. It has been projected the cost to count each person will be less than fifty cents if done online. If one of the 400,000 – 450,000 enumerators must be dispatched, the cost increases over ten-fold.

In the coming months, additional information will be disseminated to make the process of counting every resident efficient. Part-time enumerators will be hired and compensated at the rate of $17.50 per hour.

The decennial US Census is a mammoth undertaking but undercounting will have detrimental impacts to our community and the damage done will not be corrected until the next census in 2030!