Q&A: Step Up and Be Counted, Census 2020

Q: Why is the U.S. Census so important?

A: Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires an enumeration of the population every 10 years, and the U.S. Census helps deliver good government. Our system of self-government “of, by and for the people” must be held accountable to and serve the people. The primary function of the population count is to determine apportionment for the U.S House of Representatives. Each state has at least one representative, and the total number for each state is determined by population. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives includes 435 members. After the 2010 census, Iowa lost one congressional seat and currently has four representatives serving four congressional districts, respectively. According to the last census, each lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives represents on average 747,000 people. Under federal law, the U.S. Census Bureau is required to report apportionment counts to the President and Congress by Dec. 31.

Q: How’s the census taking shape in 2020?

A: For the first time, all U.S. households may respond online, in addition to by phone or mail. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 2020 will be the largest ever population count in our nation’s history. In January, the process kicked off in Alaska like it has since 1867. In the weeks to follow, however, the pandemic disrupted on-the-ground operations. Census mailings were sent right as businesses and schools began to shut down in response to the pandemic. When colleges closed campuses this spring, uncertainties arose about counting student populations. The Census Bureau uses April 1 as the marker to count population and residency, and typically instructs people to count themselves where they live on April 1. According to residence criteria for the U.S. Census, students should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time, even if they were home temporarily on April 1. Door-to-door census-takers will continue following up with households that haven’t yet responded to the survey before the Census Bureau wraps up counting on Sept. 30.

It’s a bit ironic the pandemic, derecho and ensuing economic fall-out occurred during a census year. These events have created hardship and challenges for Iowans, creating a bigger need for housing, food, child care and unemployment assistance. With greater reliance on broadband for telemedicine, telecommuting and distance learning, data compiled from the 2020 Census is more important than ever to expand access to the internet to every household in Iowa. For the next decade, the census data will help determine eligibility for federal grants and inform businesses where to open, expand and hire. Policymakers and community planners use the data to make decisions on new schools, health care clinics, roads and neighborhood amenities. Iowa has one of the highest self-response rates in the nation. Compare our state’s response rate here. But, we’ve got some catching up to do with households that haven’t yet responded. Step up to the plate, Iowa. Every Iowan counts and we need every Iowan counted.

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