The coronavirus pandemic has rocked our world, completely changing our lives and our routines.
As the official day of the 2020 decennial census nears, it has never been more important than now to ensure that all of us complete the questionnaire and be counted.
A little background on the purpose of the decennial census. The U.S. Constitution mandates that every ten years the U.S. government conducts a census of the nation’s population to determine the count of people living in the 50 states for the purpose of the apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives.
On December 31, the Census Bureau, as required by law, will deliver to the President and to Congress the final count from the 2020 census for all states and the District of Columbia. These numbers will be used to apportion the 385 congressional seats that remain after each state is allocated a single U.S. House seat. States compete for the 385 seats on the basis of the numbers of people that were counted in the 2020 census.
In the process, depending on the growth of the population since the previous decennial census in 2010, there will be winners and losers among the states as they compete for congressional seats. Texas could very well end up with three additional congressional seats, upping its current 36 seats to 39. Yet, Texas A&M University demographer Dudley Poston has estimated that an undercount of 0.7 percent—or a mere 210,000 people—could result in Texas forfeiting the third potential seat to another state. Simply put, if we do not get counted, we do not have adequate political representation.
The population counts from the 2020 census are also used for a second purpose: the distribution of federal funds that support more than 300 federal programs. Over the following ten years, every year the federal government will allocate over $1.5 trillion to states on the basis of the number of persons tallied in the 2020 census. Texas stands to be a major recipient of federal dollars that support 316 federal programs, including such programs as Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, services for veterans, funds for highway construction, educational programs, medical programs, and hundreds of other programs that we, our families, and our neighbors depend on.
The more people who are not counted in the 2020 census, the more money Texas will leave on the table and the funds that it receives will be stretched out even more to support the needs not only of people who got counted but also those of people who were not tallied in the 2020 census. Poston estimates that for every 210,000 persons not counted in Texas, the state’s federal funds will drop by $711 million. The 2020 census count has a long shelf life as the number will be used to distribute federal funds over the next ten years. Getting counted in the 2020 census definitely pays off.
It is not surprising that many state governments around the country have invested large sums of money to get as complete a count as possible in the 2020 census. California along with 25 other states have committed nearly one-third of a billion dollars to get everyone in their state counted.
Despite the fact that an undercount of approximately 210,000 Texans may result in a loss of Texas’ 39th seat along with a drop of $711 million in federal funding, Texas did not invest a single penny in efforts to count everyone in its population. Many critics of the Texas political leadership suggest that Republicans are willing to forego a congressional seat and millions of dollars in federal funding to maintain their political dominance through undercounting people who are the most difficult to count and who tend to be more likely to support the Democratic Party. The message from the Texas political establishment is that persons who are difficult to reach “do not count.”
It is important also to stress that each and every person living in the United States, regardless of citizenship status, is required to participate in the 2020 census. In addition, the census questionnaire does not ask people to report their citizenship status.
We certainly want to prove the Texas political establishment wrong. We are important and we do count. The latest Census Bureau estimates suggest that approximately 30 percent of Texans have completed the census questionnaire thus far. The rates are much lower in the Valley: Hidalgo County, 19.0 percent; Cameron County, 18.8 percent; Willacy County, 12.1 percent; and Starr County, 12.0 percent.
If you have completed the 2020 census, thank you very much for doing your civic duty. If you have not done so, please do so now. If you need assistance in completing the census questionnaire, help in English is available by calling 844-330-2020 and in Spanish at 844-468-2020. Let’s make sure that you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors get counted. Let us stand up and do our civic duty.
As we recover from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be increasingly important that we have a political voice to represent our interests as well as to ensure that we have access to all the resources that will be needed to recuperate from the ravages of the outbreak. It will certainly pay off even more to get counted in the 2020 census.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Census 2020 volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley.