Responding to census helps community

The 2020 census form will be available in 13 languages, which is over twice as many languages as the 2010 census.

The 2020 census is here.

How, or if, people respond will have a massive impact on the next decade.

The U.S. Census Bureau maintains that counting Americans and learning details about their lives is critical to helping businesses decide the locations of their facilities, guiding developers where to build housing, assisting local governments with public safety planning and even determining congressional representation and federal funding.

It boils down to a basic “who gets what” issue, said Florida Southern College political science professor Bruce Anderson. If we’re counted, he said, we get full credit for population growth, and dollars and other resources are apportioned on that basis.

“As Florida grows, so does its budget, and federal funding grants matched to population are crucial in keeping the state contribution for these things down,” he said.

How does it work?

People should already have begun receiving official Census Bureau mail with information on how to respond to the 2020 Census.

April 1 is census day, and some of the questions are about how many people, and their names, ages, sexes and birthdates; are living or staying in a house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1.

People can respond by completing a form online, by phone or through mail. The first letter people receive in the mail will have the website and phone number where people can complete the census form. Areas with limited internet connection, or that seem not as likely to respond online, will receive a paper questionnaire along with the invitation, according to the Census Bureau.

A small percentage of respondents were allowed to complete the 2010 census online, but this time around the Census Bureau is pushing for people to do the forms online, said Greg Engle, a Census Bureau media specialist.

“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people,” he said.

Census takers will begin visiting people who live in large groups, such as senior centers, in April. Census takers will begin visiting homes in May that haven’t responded to make sure they are counted.

For the 2010 census the overall response rate was 74%. The goal for the 2020 census is to reach 100%, Engle said.

“We want everybody to fill it out, but please don’t be frightened or intimidated by it,” Engle said. “It’s easy, it’s quick. We just need to make sure everybody participates.”

And to make sure that happens, the Census Bureau is hiring thousands of people across the country and in Puerto Rico to help. The bureau is offering jobs for census takers, recruiting assistants, supervisors and office staff.

“We want to hire people in our communities — trusted voices we call them — because they are people that live in that community that are familiar with the folks that live in that community,” Engle said.

Recruiting started last spring and is still underway.

Lilia Knight has filled out an application to help out with this year’s census.

The Village of Country Club Hills resident helped during the 2010 census working as a recruitment manager for 13 Florida counties.

“It was a great job in terms of the camaraderie and the teamwork aspect and what we were doing for the country,” Knight said. “It’s a real honor to be involved in something like this.”

The impact

The final numbers will help shape a wide variety of decisions. For instance, there’s the reapportionment of congressional seats. If the state has grown, Florida will receive more representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But it’s not just Congress that’s interested.

“I don’t think most folks realize how much we pull on census data,” said Frank Calascione , Sumter County’s director of economic development. “You don’t want to be underrepresented. It only happens every 10 years. If you don’t get a good count, you’re stuck with the results.”

Locally, he said, the outcome could affect funding for things such as roads, local schools including The Villages Charter School and even health care. But it helps in other ways, Calascione said. For instance, CareerSource Central Florida, the state’s employment agency for the region that includes Sumter and Lake counties, relies heavily on federal funding.

“It’s all based on numbers and demographics,” he said.

Amy Newburn, marketing research director at the Haas Center, an economics think tank at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, agreed that census data helps guide the direction of resources for many public needs. That planning includes providing infrastructure projects, public transit, healthcare access and general community development.

“You really can’t overstate how important the census is,” she said.

While the Haas Center typically utilizes the yearly census update for its research, the decennial census is critical for businesses because it delves into so much detail that the yearly report does not capture, she added.

“It’s a very rich data set. I certainly think the census tells you what areas are growing, and not just for the current year,” Newburn said.

It can also influence how companies approach the pursuit of funding for workforce training and community development grants, she said.

Undercounting could be detrimental in other ways, according to Sabeen Perwaiz, executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance in Jacksonville, which represents charitable and social service groups throughout the state.

“The census touches everything we have access to,” she said. “Head Start, children’s health insurance, Section 8 housing, adult day care — all those things come from the Census.”

The same goes for Medicaid and Medicare, which are vitally important to Florida, Perwaiz said. That’s why census-takers ask for not only population numbers, but age ranges as well.

“Population is how all those budgets are determined. Those dollars are projected on the count,” she said. If people are undercounted, “funding is reduced. It’s as simple as that. There is no way for us to alter that after the fact.”

Senior writer Bill Thompson can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5362, or Staff writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or