With the upcoming 2020 census, Michelle Elison, a Kentucky partnership specialist with the U.S Census Bureau, gave city and county officials an update of their census data, and how each can have more people participate.
The census is mandated in the Constitution and requires the bureau to do a physical count of each individual person every ten years. The main reason for the data is portioning, determining the number of representatives in the House, as well as federal monies received by the state.
She explained that many people don’t understand how much funding is tied to data collected from the census, noting $675 billion will be allocated to states based on their numbers.
A study was released from George Washington University, which establishes a per capita amount in Kentucky, per person, of $2,021.
“I bet everybody here can think of a family of five — a mom, dad and three kids — that for whatever reason they are going to be reluctant to complete the census in 2020,” she said. “That's over $10,000 every single year for the next decade that won’t be coming into your communities because one family chose not to participate. That is huge.”
Richmond Mayor Robert Blythe echoed the importance of participation in the census, as it does allocate funds for the cities and county.
“There are so many people who benefit from this and allocation is based on population, and if we don’t have an accurate counting of the people you have then there would not be accurate appropriations in funds,” he said.
In Madison County, high risk areas for the potential of undercounting in 2020 were identified near downtown Richmond, Berea and northern Madison County. Several hard-to-count populations included renters, homeless, low-income households, seniors, African American males, foreign-born residents, college students and children 4 or under.
Three groups specific to Madison County, according to Elison, are foreign residents, college students and children under the age of 4.
With the foreign-born population, she said many residents living with people who are not registered U.S. citizens are hesitant to include all persons living in their home when a government letter arrives in the mail.
“With our current political climate, a lot of people aren’t going to want to list each person living in their house and that is understandable,” she said.
She explained that all information collected from the census is confidential for 72 years, and that only statistical information could be accessed until that point.
In regards to college students, more often than not, students list their parents address on the census form instead of the campus address where they are living and staying most of the time.
“We want them to account for being here, where they are driving on your roads, using your resources or shopping your stores, we need to make sure that college students living in Madison County are educated to be counted here,” she said.
The biggest undercounted group are children ages 0-4, with children ages 5-9 being the second largest undercounted, a problem that has gotten worse since 1980, according to Elison. With the 2010 census, it was estimated that nearly 12,000 kids were unaccounted for in Kentucky.
She said that more often than not, parents mail in their census marking themselves, but not their baby or toddler. Some reasons for this are unaccounted foster children, children who split time amongst parents and grandparents raising their grandkids.
“I think about it this way, if I don’t count my child on the 2020 census, I can’t correct that mistake until 2030,” she said. “And by that time my kid has already undergone elementary school, middle school and entering high school and no funding would have been allocated for them. …This undercount of kids across the nation plays a direct impact on overcrowded classrooms and underfunded schools in our state.”
Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor added, “If you have a 5-year-old child, look at the effects of funding for that child from 5 until 15. It is important to benefit us that we have the most accurate number of participation of all citizens and families.”
To help counteract this issue of miscounting, Elison recommended that Berea, Richmond and Madison County establish a joint committee to help generate solutions and educate their citizens on completing the 2020 census.
Blythe said that he thought the idea was “excellent" with Taylor in agreement saying that in order to better educate the community, the two cities and county get together on “unified” terms.
He mentioned the benefit of educating citizens that the census is not a scam.
“One big deterrent for people is that they think it’s a scam,” Taylor said. “People are dealing with a lot of scams through phones and emailing and it’s important that we educate by word of mouth, that this is not that.”
Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley said that working with the other governments is needed to reach out to schools, faith-based organizations and other groups to share the importance of a complete count in the census.
“This is so important not only for the year of the census, but the next decade to follow,” Fraley said. “I think it is important for members of the press to get this issue out in the public eye to educate people ahead of the census in 2020.”
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.