With little fanfare, the 2020 census got underway on Jan. 21 in a tiny community along the Bering Sea called Toksook Bay, Alaska. It is so remote that the census bureau director from Washington, D.C. was late to his own ceremonial kick-off event. Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr, a 90-year old elder in Toksook Bay, was the first person counted, leading up to the estimated 334 million people across America participating in the census.
The decennial census is coming to a town, village, city, urban or rural area near you, too. Mark a calendar - April 1 is National Census Day. No word on school and government closings, however.
The data collected from the census helps the federal government determine financial resources distributed to communities for roads, highways, schools and hospitals. Can you say $675 billion in federal dollars annually? Developers can use the census information to make investment decisions. Local governments will use the data for planning and public safety. An average citizen will use it for quality of life initiatives or research leading to new or amended ordinances.
The origin of a national census is found in the U.S. Constitution. Our nation’s founders devised a creative plan to empower people over their new government (Wait. What?). The plan was to count every person in the U.S. and use the information to determine representation in the fledgling Congress. The goal was first accomplished in 1790 and has continued every 10 years.
Today, there are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. From the 2020 census, some states will gain representation and others will lose. Take California for example (it’s yours, take it). Even with its large population base, a congressional seat may be lost in California. Minnesota is in jeopardy of losing a seat, too. West Virginia may lose two seats and Texas could gain two. As many as 17 state dominos could fall - some tipping forward; some falling behind.
The Census Bureau has a Dec. 31 deadline to deliver findings to the sitting president. This marks the beginning of congressional reapportionment, which goes into effect for the 2022 midterm elections. The data used for state and local redistricting will be available March 31, 2021.
An undercount of people is always a reality. The Census Bureau will spend $500 million on a public education and outreach campaign with more than 1,000 ads to reach 99% of U.S. households. A tagline, “Shape your Future. Start here” was created to bolster awareness and participation. Videos in 59 non-English languages are available to explain how to fill out the forms. Languages range from Thai to Tamil and from Italian to Hindi. In short, the Census Bureau wants everyone counted.
Back to Toksook Bay and elder Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr. The census from 10 years ago estimated Toksook Bay’s population at 590 people. By 2017 the estimate was 661. Toksook Bay is not only holding its own, it is growing. To encourage participation from Alaska’s indigenous groups, the 2020 questionnaires were translated into the Yup'ik language. Elder Lizzie appreciated that. The 2030 census is just around the corner for Lizzie.
Here’s to being counted in the weeks ahead. Shape your Future. Start here.