The 2020 Census will mark the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790. Mandated by the Constitution, every ten years the country must conduct a population count and citizens are legally required to participate. This snapshot in time influences the operations of the nation from federal dollars to state and legislative district representation. GNDC caught up with state demographer Kevin Iverson, who manages the ND Census Office at the ND Department of Commerce to ask some questions directly related to completion, results, and COVID19 impacts.
In our video question, "How does ND's completion numbers compare to other states?" Iverson shared a few data points including that in 2010 the state was 29th and also which ND cities are listed among the highest in the nation for completion.
GNDC: What are North Dakota’s completion numbers? Iverson: Nationwide has seen a decline in the response rate. In Census 2000, North Dakota finished at about a 73% response rate and we were about 30th overall in response rate per state. In 2010, we ended up at about 70%. The current numbers are changing daily, but as of last week we are at 59.8%. Right now, the national average is 60.9%, so we are slightly below the national rate in terms of response. That downward trend matches what we are seeing nationwide. People seem to be more reluctant to respond. The big push in asking people to self-respond is because the reporting is much more accurate when people voluntarily complete the form.
Are they where you hoped they would be by this time?
We hoped we would be among the top 10 states. More resources were put into getting the word out to North Dakota citizens for 2020. A statewide conference was held to address the importance of the Census and to organize Complete Count committees. In 2010, there were four Complete Count committees established statewide. This time there were forty.
Tell me why it is important for North Dakota residents to complete their Census?
There are three primary reasons.
First, the Census was created for the distribution of political power. The United States was the first country in which power was distributed based on population rather than on land ownership or wealth. So, it plays significantly in the political process. The reality is that North Dakota will not gain another seat in the House of Representatives as a result of the count, but these numbers are also used in drawing state legislative district lines. It could have an impact on the number of people that larger states send to Congress, though. California is spending $180 million on the Census. They understand the significance of counting everyone and recognize that not doing so can affect their political power.
The second reason is tied into that, and that is the financial impact. We estimated the cost of one individual not counted in 2020 is $19,100. That is based on George Washington University’s Counting for Dollars program. That only estimates distributions to states from the federal government’s sixteen largest distribution programs. There are 316 federal programs that use Census figures to determine where money is distributed. This includes libraries, transfer hospitals, rural economic development programs and a number of other programs. Without a count of individuals, no funding will flow to those programs. As a matter of fact, the $19,100 figure is based on 2015 dollars. It is a very conservative number. I believe that when George Washington University recalculates those numbers down the road, they will report that the financial impact is significantly more.
The third reason is that as a state the makeup of our population has changed. In 1930, North Dakota’s population was 96% non-Hispanic White. Now we are at about 85%. That means that other ethnic groups are moving into our state. If we want to assure other ethnic groups are counted as part of our society; we should have them counted in the Census. We know, for instance that about 4.9% of the Native Americans on North Dakota reservations were not counted for whatever reason. In many cases, it is thought that distrust of the federal government is the reason. Unfortunately, by not reporting, they are hurting the amount of federal funding that could be coming to the reservation to provide services. Burleigh County has about a 75% response rate. Higher rates are common in the counties that hold the state capital. That is attributed to the fact that there are more state and federal employees working in these counties. People in more rural areas do not see the impact as much, but proportionally it is just as significant.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted this Census?
It has had a huge impact. In North Dakota ,it seems that having that person to person contact helps with getting people to complete the Census. We had arranged events where people could come to use a computer and receive some assistance (if they needed it) to complete the Census online. The plans included sending computers to libraries so that people in those communities could go to the library and get online. Those were all shut down. We had also planned an event for April 1 at the Capitol Building, which is Census Day, to promote completing the Census. Well, the Capitol Building was closed at that time. Another thing that hurt us was that much of the advertising that we had bought was on billboards on roads that were carrying much less traffic than usual.
With the need for social distancing, what challenges has that presented for hiring and training staff who are working as field representatives?
The official term is Enumerator. If you go back in time to how the Census was previously done, it was completely conducted by enumerators who went door to door collecting the information. We thought the Census Bureau would have a significant problem because of COVID-19. The opposite was true. People we hired really wanted to get out of their homes and get started. There were some losses in terms of individuals who had young children. Also, the timeframe caused some difficulties for the people who were going to do the door-to-door follow-up work. That work was originally scheduled to start next week, but it has been pushed back to August. That has an impact on people’s schedules, especially if they already had other plans in August. For the most part, though, it has not had a dramatic impact. Some counties in the western part of the state still need to hire more workers, but most counties have been able to hire enough people to do the work.
When will the official results be shared?
By law, they are supposed to be provided to the President by the end of the year. Everything has been pushed back three months. So, the end of March 2021 is when they will be delivered to the President. By law, they were supposed to be delivered to the states no later than the first of April 2021, but that has been pushed back to July 2021. That is typically how it works. The Census is a slow process. You need to ferret out the double counts and undercounts, and believe it or not, occasionally, someone will list the wrong state on the form or make some other error. One issue that is expected to be big this year is college students. Typically, college students are on campus on April 1, but this year many of them were home. That might be in a different town or a different state. They are supposed to be counted in the place where they spend the majority of their time. Besides college students, this is important for people who are working in the Bakken and for individuals living on the Air Force bases in North Dakota. If they are spending most of their time in those places, that is where they should be counted. If a family member is living with you on April 1 they should be counted. If your child is born on March 31, you count them. There was a nationwide study that was released about three years ago in which 846 North Dakota households had identified children in other forms of federal data, but they were not included in Census forms. For every person who is not counted in our Census, the amount of money available to our state goes down.