Our U.S. Constitution requires that every 10 years, we complete a basic outline of who we are as a country:
- How many people live here
- The number of men and women and seniors and toddlers
- The nationalities and racial backgrounds of our residents
- …and more.
Since we’re starting a new decade, a new census count will be conducted in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and 5 U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (You’re not alone if you’re not familiar with the Northern Mariana Islands… I had to look them up, too — they’re just north of Guam in the Pacific Ocean and they look lovely.)
The 2020 census count takes place on April 1, and participation from as many people as possible is vital because that population information is used not only to determine representation in Congress and determine legislative districts at the state level, but also is the basis for hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding for hospitals, police and fire departments, schools, and much more.
Not only is it vital, participation in the census is actually required by law.
Since it’s been 10 years, here’s a refresher on how the count works:
- By April 1, all apartments and homes in the states and territories will receive an invitation to participate and people have 3 ways to respond on April 1: online, by phone, or by mail.
- Also in April, census takers will begin visiting college housing, senior and assisted living facilities, and other places where large groups of people live. (Here is important information about verifying census takers in your neighborhood.)
- Over the summer, census takers will knock on doors of homes that haven’t responded to the census.
- The final count will be delivered to the President and Congress by the end of 2020, and the Census Bureau will send the count back to the states by the end of March 2021 so states can begin their redistricting processes.
If residents of a home don’t respond by April 1, they will receive several reminders in the mail before the census takers hit the streets to knock on doors. (Anyone can complete the census before April 1 if they know none of the information will change immediately after that date.)
The response must be completed by the resident of the home or building, NOT the owner, so all 20 residents of a 20-unit apartment building will get their own form in the mail, for example.
It’s also important to note that, as a result of a lengthy court case, residents will NOT be asked whether they are citizens of the United States. Instead, 2 questions on the census ask the respondent to identify:
- If he or she is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
- His or her race from a list of options (“For this census, Hispanic origins are not races,” the census website reads.)
Also, by law, all census data can only be used to compile statistics and is otherwise kept confidential.
Those census takers are important to complete the process, and the Census Bureau needs A LOT of them — hundreds of thousands of temporary workers will be hired to visit homes that did not respond. Wayne Stretsbury, Marathon County’s Census Bureau representative and recruiting assistant, said the Bureau is looking for people who can work at least 10 hours per week and possibly up to (but no more than) 40 hours per week.
That could mean a pretty healthy paycheck, because the pay rate for census takers in Marathon County is $19 per hour! (By comparison, pay rates in Portage County will be $17/hour, $17.50/hour in Wood County, and $19/hour in Lincoln County.)
Stretsbury said that anyone interested in applying should do so through the online application right away because the Bureau will look to have the hiring process wrapped up by the end of February to leave some time for background checks and a couple of days of training before the job starts in May. (There is no paper application for the job.) He also said the census taker hours are very flexible – whenever the taker can do it, and whenever people are apt to be at home.
Once all the numbers are in, the process begins to redistribute the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Wisconsin kept its 8 congressional seats after the 2010 census.) But because people not only move from state to state, but also within states, the census numbers are used to reconfigure state legislative districts — a.k.a. redistricting. That’s why some Wisconsin residents ended up in a different congressional district and/or a different state assembly or state senate district after the 2010 census. Census data is also used to draw school district boundaries, which could in turn have an impact on a child’s education.
The census data has a major impact on the way more than $600 BILLION in federal funding and grants is allocated to the states to pay for schools, roads, emergency response services, and so much more. The numbers can also impact economic development — because businesses certainly pay attention to where the people are — planning for hospitals and other health services and land use. Some of that information is used locally by businesses and prospective businesses through the Marathon County Public Library’s access to Reference USA, a directory with all sorts of population and demographic information.
One less serious impact, but still important, is the use of the 2020 data by future genealogy enthusiasts trying to track down their ancestors. Don’t deny your great-great-grandchildren the chance to know where and with whom you lived!
As you can see, responding to the 2020 census is important for many reasons — some of which will likely impact you directly for the next 10 years. Besides, it’s the law!
So take a few minutes to share some basic information about yourself, and help the United States take a picture of itself in 2020!
image credit: Fair use.