Why is the 2020 Census important?

Any community or part of it that the 2020 Census fails to count will not be part of many policy and budgetary decisions that will be made in the subsequent decade. For example, 2015 estimates are that Washington may have lost close to $2,000 of federal funds for every individual not counted in 2010. Washington needs an accurate count to ensure that the allocation of taxpayers’ funds is efficient and fair, reflects the reality on the ground, and can create the greatest impact.

The Constitution mandates a decennial census

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. constitution establishes the basis for a complete population count every 10 years in order to determine the number of Congressional representatives that each state gets. The 14th Amendment makes clear that the count must include “the whole number of persons in each state.”

Census data is used for political and administrative representation

Map of congressional districts in Washington drawn up following the 2010 CensusWashington state uses the data to draw boundaries for every level of government down to the school districts. Due to growth in the state between 2000 and 2010, Washington was also able to send an additional representative to Congress. While the state is unlikely to gain another seat in the 2020 Census, an accurate count is important to ensuring fair and equal representation at all levels.

Policymaking, budget decision-making and planning

Federal, state, and local government agencies rely on census data for planning and delivering education, economic development and employment, health, and transportation services. In FY2015, Washington state received $13 billion just from 16 of the largest federal assistance programs that distribute funds based on census data. It is estimated that 300 federal program allocate funds based on census-derived statistics.

State estimates are that census data determines the allocation of $200 million to counties and cities from the state general fund annually.

But, it is not just governments that use census data to plan, budget, and make policy:

  • Businesses use the census to decide where to build factories, offices and stores, which creates jobs.
  • Developers use the census to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods.
  • Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness.
  • Transportation planners use the census to decide on public transit routes.
  • Citizen organizations rely on census data to identify community needs, request and fund programs, monitor trends and assess program effectiveness.
  • Residents use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.

New technology may increase challenges for a complete count

In 2020, the Census Bureau plans to use the internet as the primary mode of self-response for the first time. Other cost-cutting measures include introducing “big data” solutions (e.g., GIS mapping, on-line personnel management methods, and administrative records) to replace more resource-intensive address, training, and non-response follow-up canvassing. While certain groups have typically been hard-to-count communities, the new and largely untested innovations increase the potential to omit residents where housing has grown or changed, to overlook those with less computer literacy or broadband access, and to undercount young children, minorities, low-income individuals and other marginalized individuals.