The 2020 Census will determine whether Colorado gets billions more in federal funding and — potentially — an eighth congressional seat. It’s also critical for collecting data for planning and policymaking.
The nationwide count of population and households — taken every 10 years in the U.S. and its territories as required by the U.S. Constitution — provides important demographic data used by businesses, legislators, government institutions and many others.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 21 percent of Coloradans did not self-respond to the census in 2010. So to ensure the local count is as accurate as possible this time, the Pikes Peak Area Complete Count Committee has been meeting for about a year and is ramping up efforts to increase awareness before questionnaires are sent to households in mid-March.
“The census is just as important as voting,” said Eric Phillips, the co-chair of PPACCC. “And you only get to do it every 10 years. So it’s really important we get it right.”
While census information has widespread impact, it largely affects city, state and national government.
According to political consulting firm Election Data Services, in order for Colorado to get an additional Congressional seat — as well as an additional member of the Electoral College — the state would need to show a population growth of 643,648 residents since the 2010 Census.
Estimates by the Census Bureau in July 2019 showed the state’s population had grown by nearly 730,000 residents, but that figure would need to be verified via this year’s count. The results of any new apportionment are expected to be released Dec. 31.
Sarah Johnson, Colorado Springs city clerk and co-chair of PPACCC’s government sub-committee, said the census’ impact on politics will also be felt locally in the years ahead.
“As far as the election world, census numbers matter,” Johnson said. “Particularly because they are used as a base point for determining how big a city council district is, or a county commissioner district, or who your state representative is, or your state senator, or your congressman. Population numbers are what are used to draw those boundaries.”
The census also determines funding for federal projects and services within the housing, education, transportation, roads and health care sectors.
There’s about $880 billion in federal funds distributed nationwide based on census counts, which equates to approximately $13 billion annually for the Centennial State, or about $2,300 per person.
Those dollars, according to the census page on the State of Colorado website, help fund Title 1 grants to educational agencies; Head Start programs; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; public transportation; emergency food and shelter; and health and human services programs.
“There’s always some element in the funding of grants or programs … that’s tied in some way to census numbers,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s a large factor in a decision or not, it’s always tied to it.”
Johnson said the data is also used by government agencies to determine where and how to best allocate resources.
“For example, maybe we need a new fire station in one part of town, or we need more police officers in a section of town … [via] a new substation,” she said. “Factored into that are these census numbers.”
In the private sector, the census also has an impact on new businesses.
“Before you start your business, you have to look at the demographics of who your customer is,” Phillips said. “And the census helps you to go in and be able to find your niche … and a place to set up.”
The 2020 Census officially begins in mid-March and continues through July and, for the first time, the Census Bureau will be collecting data in four ways: online; over the phone, with respondents dialing the census call center listed on the postcard mailed to each household; using the traditional paper form; or by responding to a census enumerator.
Census forms are available in 13 languages and ask multiple demographic questions, to include: name, phone number, age, sex, race, relationship to householder, number of people in the household and more.
In anticipation of data gathering, PPACCC also hopes to assure Coloradans that the census — and more importantly, their information — is safe.
Census Bureau activities are protected by Title 13 of the U.S. Code; the law stipulates that respondents’ information must be confidential and cannot be used against them by any government agency or court, and Census Bureau employees swear for life to uphold that confidentiality.