We need a full court press on the census
Published August 13, 2020
By Tom Campbell
Four million North Carolinians have not filled out the 2020 census. That’s not good news for a number of reasons.
Let’s start with the dollars and cents. In fiscal year 2017 our state received $44 billion dollars from federal programs. Undercounting our population could cost us $7.4 billion per year. Of course, these are not “free dollars” from our benevolent Uncle, as many are quick to point out. The feds are returning dollars we already paid into federal coffers. All true. But the reality is that unless the tax collection and distribution systems are drastically altered (and it’s not likely to happen anytime soon) the dollars we sent aren’t going to be returned to our state and might go to another state.
About 63 percent of the population has responded nationally. North Carolina’s rate is about 59 percent, according to Rebecca Tippett and Carolina Demography. Sadly, the ones who have the most to lose are also the ones most likely uncounted, including those who live in rural sections at both ends of our state and people of color. They depend on the food stamps, Medicaid, Head Start, school feeding programs, and Pell Grant assistance in higher education.
This data is also important because it will be used to redistrict legislative and judicial districts. For many years political power resided from those living east if I-95, but rural population declines have shifted power to more urban areas. If current undercounting isn’t improved rural areas could lose even more influence.
Because of population increases over the past decade it has been widely speculated our state would gain an additional seat and a little more political clout, giving us 14 in the U.S. House. Even with our poor showing it is still likely we’ll get that additional seat, but where the new district is located will be determined by census numbers.
It didn’t help that the 2020 census kickoff came the first of April, as the pandemic was rearing its ugly head and changing our lives. That could be one of many reasons why people haven’t responded. Feeding families, making rent and schooling children was a higher priority. Some might not understand how important the census is or don’t have access to the Internet. Census officials asked for more time to complete the count but were given only until the end of September. Some posit there are political reasons why no more time was given. We hope not.
Those who haven’t “self-responded,” who didn’t take the five minutes or less necessary to complete an online form, are supposed to be included in the NRFU, or nonresponse follow up operation. Starting this week census takers will visit addresses and take the count. As you can imagine this is both expensive and time consuming; there are questions about whether there is enough money or enough time to finish the count.
Make it a point to ask everyone you contact if they have responded to the census. If they haven’t, ask them to take five minutes and go online to my2020census.gov to do it. It will help them and our state.
We all benefit when everybody is counted. We need an accurate measure of our population. Let’s put on a full court press to complete the count.