Dissipating fear and misconstruction about the 2020 census has been a goal for local governments and community organizers across southwest Kansas trying to reach hard-to-count communities. Teaching the community what the census is and isn’t is only the beginning. Community leaders need to become trusted voices within our communities to battle the lack of trust the population has toward government, which can be a barrier to a complete count.

Communities with lower census participation rates or hard-to-count communities are linked to factors like rental and multi-family housing, low education and income levels, public assistance, transient populations, lack of phone/internet service, language barriers and vacant housing units. State and local leaders are devoting marketing resources toward these communities in an effort to get out the count. For southwest Kansas, it is important that we get credit for every person living here because the more accurate the count, the more federal dollars for our communities.

We can get a decent idea of where hard-to-count communities are by looking at participation rates in past censuses. Southwest Kansas is known for being undercounted. Community leaders were puzzled by the lower-than-expected population counts in the 2010 census.

Garden City was one of many communities in the country that challenged the U.S. Census Bureau’s results after the 2010 census. According to census data, Garden City lost 6.3% of its population between 2000 and 2010, which means the city went from 28,000 to 26,000 residents, something that is difficult to believe considering the large growth of Garden City during the past 10 years. A community housing assessment study completed in 2017 indicated the population of Garden City in 2014 was between 30,300 and 32,000. The city used certain indicators, such as its utility billing, employment numbers and construction activity, to estimate its population.

The large difference from the results of this study and those of the 2010 census supports the idea that an undercount occurred. But even these estimates may be lower than the actual count as many children, who account for the largest hard-to-count population, are difficult to identify by the indicators utilized in the study. Unfortunately, the inaccurate results of the 2010 census in Garden City are consistent with the low results for the rest of southwest Kansas.

For the first time, the U.S. Census Bureau is relying heavily on the internet to identify in advance where the hard-to-reach populations may be. ROAM, which stands for Response Outreach Area Mapper, is an online application developed to help pinpoint in real time the communities that are showing low participation in the upcoming census. This application will help mobilize community leaders and volunteers as they work to reach the hard-to-count communities. Community leaders want the population to know that getting the numbers correct this year is important because it determines the city’s eligibility for federal dollars that fund many of the programs available to all residents. Our communities need to fight for every dollar by making themselves count. Not doing so will cost local governments approximately $2,200 for every person not counted.

Blanca Soto is the southwest Kansas campaign director for the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and a member of the Kansas Complete Count Committee.