Can you believe that we are in the midst of the 2020 Census?
With headlines of non-stop protests, the COVID-19 pandemic and the anemic economy dominating the news cycle, the Census has not received its fair share of media coverage. All these unexpected developments have eclipsed the official count of everybody who lives in the United States.
But it’s important that we not forget about the 2020 Census. Every 10 years, the government, through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of the Census, gathers critical demographic data. While the Census collects information about our people and our economy continuously, the entire population is counted only once a decade. And that is happening right now.
The decennial Census is about much more than compiling a demographic snapshot of our nation. It is about the allocation of power and money. If we don’t get an accurate and complete count of all people living and breathing in our country, we are all diminished.
The Census is a tradition steeped in our country’s history. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the first Census was conducted in 1790. An “enumeration” is called for in the same article and section that addresses membership in the House of Representatives, hence underlining the importance of the Census in distributing political power.
The 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives are fixed by law and proportionally represent the population of all 50 states, with each member of the House representing a set number of constituents. After the 2010 Census, Georgia gained one seat (Georgia has 14 representatives in the House). The Peach State was one of only eight states that added representatives in Congress, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Congressional representation is also consequential because the number of a state’s representatives in Washington, D.C., factors into the all-important electoral votes that determine who gets to be president.
Moreover, the critical task of redrawing the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts also occurs in the aftermath of the once-in-a-decade Census. We cannot underestimate the importance of redistricting in shaping political outcomes.
How tax dollars from Washington are allotted to states is also derived from Census numbers. Data from the decennial count determines the geographic distribution of about $900 billion dollars in federal funds.
In 2016, guided by data gathered from the 2010 Census, Georgia received $24 billion through 55 federal spending programs, according to a study by The George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy. The biggest federal program that benefits Georgians is Medicaid, followed in order by federal student loans, food stamps (SNAP), Medicare part B, highway construction and Pell Grants, says the GW report. Other programs include school lunch and breakfast programs; Head Start; WIC; low-income housing tax credits; Section 8 housing vouchers; community development grants; and many more.
The distribution of resources for various federal small business loan programs is also determined by Census data.
Though businesses are not counted in the 2020 Census (the count is at the household level), the data obtained is essential to help businesses grow and thrive. Where should I open new locations? How can I serve my customers better? What products should I sell? Where can I find skilled workers? Census info guides strategic business decisions such as these.
Securing the future prosperity of our state, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis, is at stake in this year’s Census. For every person that is not counted in the Census, the state forfeits $1,339 annually per capita in the 16 largest federal assistance programs, according to the GW report. This number is higher in other estimates.
As Georgia’s population grows and becomes increasingly polychromatic, it is imperative that all our communities and residents get access to the resources we need so that Georgia can remain competitive as a business destination.
In order for Georgia to reap off the political benefits of a population growth powered by Latinos and to retain its spot as the top state to do business for decades to come, all Georgians need to be counted.
It’s very easy to self-respond to the Census, and you can do it online, over the phone or by mail. If you haven’t filled out the Census. Encourage your employees and customers to participate by Oct. 31, the final deadline (extended from July 31 due to the COVID-19 epidemic).