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Complete, accurate Census count is vital to quality of life

By Staff | Mar 24, 2020

In mid-March households across the nation will receive postcards from the U.S. Census Bureau on how to complete the 2020 Census survey. This head count of every individual in the United States is mandated by the Constitution and has been conducted every 10 years since 1790.

Decennial Census data are used to reapportion the House of Representatives, determining the number of seats a state receives. (In 2010, Florida gained two seats.) State officials use the results to redraw the boundaries of national, state and local legislative districts to adapt to population shifts. The value of a complete count, however, goes well beyond legislative considerations. Governments use census data to determine the need for new infrastructure such as roads and bridges as well as to evaluate local emergency preparedness. Businesses rely on census data to decide where to build factories, offices, and stores. Real estate developers use census results to select locations for the revitalization of old neighborhoods and for the construction of new homes.

Perhaps most important to the economic well-being of a state is that census results help to determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal program funding. Stated simply, a state’s receipt of its fair share of federal funds depends on the completeness and accuracy of its census count. Over $650 billion a year is distributed to state and local governments using census numbers (over $4 trillion over the decade).

In 2010, with only a 74 percent participation rate, Florida missed $946 for every Floridian that was not counted. With an overall 2010 response rate of 72 percent, Lee County as well left millions of federal dollars on the plate. A 2019 report by the Urban Institute predicts significant undercounts in areas with relatively large black and Hispanic populations, two groups that have been historically undercounted. In addition, the Urban Institute says that very young children (age 0-4) are the most likely group to be undercounted. Children in need are the beneficiaries of many of the largest federal programs using decennial counts and census-derived data.

Public schools count on receiving the funding that they need to serve every child who walks through their doors. Undercounts mean that school districts may not be able to cover the needs that exist in their schools. The resulting lack of resources can negatively affect all children in the schools. Public schools’ allocation of federal dollars include grants from Title I to serve students from low-income families, the national School Lunch Program, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Head Start preschool program. In addition, programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children keep millions of families out of poverty and have lasting benefits for children’s health and academic success.

It is quick and easy to respond to the 2020 Census questionnaire. You will have the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. Households that don’t respond will be visited by a census taker to collect the information in person. Regardless of how you respond, your information is safe, secure, and protected by federal law. Your answers can only be used to produce statistics – they cannot be used against you in any way.

Taking part in the 2020 Census is your civic duty. We have just one shot every 10 years to get the count right. A complete and accurate count is vital to the quality of life in our community and in all of Florida for the next decade.

Betsy Vaughn holds the District 6 seat on the Lee County School Board.