One day can cast a decade’s influence on the flow of federal money to Kansas and on the voice that Kansans have in Washington, D.C., and in Topeka.
That day is U.S. Census Day. And Monday starts the one-year countdown to the 2020 U.S. Census.
About $675 billion in federal funds and grants will be awarded based on the census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Data also will determine reapportionment in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, the numbers, after some adjustments, will guide the redistricting of state legislative districts.
The 2020 Census will have 11 questions. None of the basic questions are appearing on a census for the first time, according to Census Bureau public affairs specialist Kristina Barrett.
Questions will include age, date of birth, race, sex, Hispanic origin, ancestry, citizenship, relationships within the household — such as stepchildren, grandparents, and married or unmarried opposite-sex or same-sex partners, and rental or home ownership, with or without a mortgage.
It will be the first national census offered online. The options to fill out the paper form or respond by telephone will be available.
Even the story of the birth of Jesus involves a government count, with Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem for a census.
The U.S. Constitution's Article 1, Section 2, addresses the U.S. House of Representatives and the apportionment of seats based on a state’s population. It mandates that the enumeration is carried out every 10 years.
During elections from about 1892 to 1930, Kansas had as many as eight U.S. House seats, giving the state a total of 10 Electoral College votes when the two U.S. Senate seats were taken into account. Because of the addition of states to the union and population shifts since 1930, Kansas has dropped to four seats in the 435-seat U.S. House. As a result, Kansas has a reduced number of Electoral College votes — six — in presidential elections.
While the 2020 census will show that other states have gained more residents than Kansas since 2010, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Great Bend, expects Kansas will keep four seats in the House after the census. Marshall represents the Big First, which now covers 63 counties in mostly western Kansas. That district could encompass more counties by 2022, the first election year after Congressional reapportionment. That also will be the first election year following the redrawing of state legislative districts.
The overseer of the first census in 1790 was Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. That Census Day was listed as Aug. 2. For 1830, the Census Day moved from August to June 1 and remained there for years. It’s also been set on April 15 and on Jan. 1.
In addition to the April 1 decennial census, the Census Bureau conducts the American Community Survey annually to gather more information.
The goal of the decennial census is to count everyone, one time and at the right place, according to the Census Bureau.
An expensive part of the undertaking is the cost to deploy thousands of census-takers to collect data in person from those who do not respond, according to Barrett. Where census-takers are hired depends on the location’s response rate. New York City residents, for example, have a low response rate, so a number of census-takers will be needed there, Barrett said.
A Census Bureau response rate map charts participation by census tracts. Overall, Kansas has about an 80 percent response rate, which is considered good, according to Barrett. But the map reveals southwest Kansas counties with lower response rates than most of the state.
Those counties have sizable Hispanic residents and recent immigrant populations. That includes Hamilton County, with indications of a response rate closer to 76 percent.
“There’s a big language barrier,” said Syracuse city administrator Brian Bloyd, in Hamilton County. Just getting the message out that this census is important is key, he said.
The Census Bureau is using 2016 survey data to help shape its non-English language materials.
“You’ll be able to respond online or by phone in English and 12 additional languages: Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese,” according to Barrett. “Each language will have a dedicated toll-free number to accept telephone responses, and there will be two different numbers for Chinese — one for Mandarin and one for Cantonese,” she said.
Census language guides and language identification cards will be available in 59 languages.
Garden City challenged the 2010 census three times, said the city’s neighborhood and development services director, Kaleb Kentner.
“We were undercounted,” he said. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people were missed in the last census, he said, and areas were omitted. The follow-up effort was flawed, he said.
“We’ve been working with the (U.S.) Census for over a year,” he said, in preparation for 2020 and for the most accurate counts possible in Garden City, as well as in Holcomb and Finney County’s unincorporated areas.
The marketing effort will send the message, said city planner Melissa Dougherty-O’Hara, that it’s not a matter of whether someone is documented or undocumented, every person needs to be counted.
In 2010, census-takers from as far away as Wichita traveled to Garden City because the Census Bureau had trouble hiring enough locally based workers, Kentner said.
“We will actively recruit local people to participate as census-takers,” Dougherty-O’Hara said.
The city will spend money in the outreach effort to promote census participation, according to Kentner.
Latin American residents
The League of United Latin American Citizens hopes to have the Census Bureau's director at its July convention in Milwaukee.
“Because that’s how important it is,” said Sindy Benavides, chief executive officer for LULAC, in a phone interview with The News. LULAC is a national organization with councils in states, including Kansas.
There has been a “massive undercounting" of Latin American children, Benavides said, and that has meant fewer resources are going to localities for schools and programs. “It really creates friction with the local community,” she said.
“Making sure that everyone is counted has to be a top priority,” Benavides said, and LULAC is one the organizations partnering with the Census Bureau.
Challenges that LULAC sees, she said, are the political climate and rhetoric.
“We see truly a war on immigrants,” she said, and that instills fear. “That has a deep impact in terms of trust in the government,” she said.
Written into the U.S. Code are penalties for violating the confidentiality of those completing the census. Statistical data will be published, but individual census records are confidential and will not be shared with other government agencies, including those responses pertaining to citizenship, according to Barrett.
“I have trust in our federal government employees,” Benavides said, noting they take a pledge to maintain confidentiality. However, Latin American community members see the census as part of the government and they don’t see the nuances with this data-gathering, she said.
A population that is highly mobile and whose members work more than one job and may not be easily reachable or aware of the census poses obstacles, she said.
One low-response demographic group is referred to by the Census Bureau as “Y and M.” They are young and mobile, ages 18-34.
In a survey, 3 percent of young adults said they were “not at all likely” to fill out the census. Another 10 percent said they were “not too likely.” Only 54 percent said they either were “very likely” or “extremely likely” to complete the census.
The most willing census participants are those age 65 and older. Seventy-three percent of them were “very likely” or “extremely likely” to complete the census.
In focus groups to examine barriers for participating in the census, young adults expressed support for an online form.
“I would actually prefer that than having to speak to someone," one young adult said in a focus group for the Census Bureau. "I already do everything online anyway."
“Everything is going out March 12,” Barrett said of the mass mailing in 2020.
About 80 percent in the country will receive postcards encouraging the household to go online and complete the census — one census form per household.
Households with high internet connectivity will receive postcards. Those living in low connectivity areas will receive a paper census.
Those receiving a postcard but failing to take action will automatically be sent a paper census as a follow-up step, Barrett said. Households receiving a postcard about the online option but preferring a paper census can either call and request a paper form or wait until it automatically arrives in the mail.
“We will not email people,” Barrett said.
In 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office put the 2020 Census in the “high-risk” area. That also was the year the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the overall cost of the census would be $15.6 billion — a 27-percent hike over a 2015 estimate.
The most recent GAO report on the 2020 Census noted improvements. A new Census Bureau director was installed in 2019 and the Census Bureau has made strides in various categories.
Still, more progress is needed.
“For example,” the GAO noted regarding the Census Bureau’s information technologies, “as of December 2018, the Bureau had identified nearly 1,100 system security weaknesses that needed to be addressed.”
LULAC’s Benavides voiced concern that the government may not sufficiently fund the cost of census-takers. The Census Bureau’s Barrett said no funds for census-takers have been cut or diverted.
“We are confident in our ability to complete an accurate Census in a timely fashion with the funding we receive,” Barrett said.
The Census Bureau is taking online job applications now. The regional Census Bureau office covering a territory that includes Kansas is located in Denver, but Denver’s operation will have a major Census office in Dallas, according to Barrett.
Two 2020 Census Bureau offices in Kansas — in Wichita and Kansas City — have yet to be opened.
Temporary workers to check addresses will be hired this summer, according to the Census Bureau. The bulk of the Census Bureau’s temporary workforce will not be employed until 2020.
Those wanting to work for the census must be at least 18 years old, be a U.S. citizen, and have a Social Security number and an email address. Criminal background checks will be conducted.
Hourly pay will vary, but the pay rate for census-takers for most of Kansas will be $13.50 an hour, with reimbursement for work-related mileage and expenses The hourly rate in Wyandotte, Johnson, and Leavenworth counties will be $17.
Job applicants must apply online, at http://www.2020census.gov/jobs/,