The 2020 census is a high-stakes affair that can affect everything from federal funds to where businesses set up shop.
Valerie Warner, partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, notes Danville has an under-count because some households have not taken the survey in past population counts.
There are parts of the city — neighborhood- sized areas known as census tracts — with non-response rates of more than 20%, she told the Danville Register & Bee.
Households can expect to receive census material in the mail between March 12 and March 20. And an anemic response can result in less federal funding for all types of programs for a locality, from education, housing and urban development, adult education and training, to rural development and infrastructure and other items.
“There is a lot of money at stake,” said Andrew Reamer, research professor at George Washington University’s GW Institute of Public Policy.
Warner agreed: “The lower response rate means less funds for the community because the percentage of federal funds the community gets is based on census data.”
So, the funding a community loses out on because of an under-count ends up going elsewhere.
“It goes to other communities,” Reamer said. “Danville is giving its money away to other localities that count themselves. Every other community benefits from Danville not counting.”
According to the 2010 census, Danville’s had a population of 43,055 people. That number since has fallen to 40,693 (5.5%), according to the latest available population estimate from July 1, 2018. Virginia’s total population is estimated to be about 8.5 million.
The U.S. census, conducted every 10 years, counts not only the population but different subgroups based on age, income, race and other factors. That information helps determine how much funding from certain programs a locality gets.
For example, if Danville were eligible for $50 million in Title 1 education funds — intended to help underprivileged students meet state standards — based on its population, but gets $49 million because of an under-count of lower-income families, other communities would instead get a cut of the remaining $1 million.
In effect, an impoverished family that doesn’t respond to the census can result in less federal money for programs that could benefit that household.
There are certain groups, like senior citizens and minorities, that are less likely to respond, Warner said. Also, children are often not included.
“All of those demographics play a role in applying for and receiving assistance,” Danville Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds said.
It’s common for urban areas to have issues with under-counting, he said.
By mid-March, each household will receive a mailed invitation to participate in the census. Residents can go online and answer questions for each member of the household or they can make a phone call.
“If they fail to do that, they’ll get another survey in the mail,” Warner said.
During May to July, census takers will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to mailers to make sure everyone is counted.
To prepare for the 2020 census count, neighborhoods in Danville were canvassed this past summer to find out if anyone was living in homes to help alleviate an under-count.
Besides playing a role in redistricting and determining funding for a locality, census data also is used by prospective businesses looking to locate to a community.
For a store like Target to come to an area, Reamer explained, it needs to know the the size and type of population.
“The efficiency and vitality of our economy depends on the Census Bureau because hundreds of thousands of businesses make decisions based on that data,” Reamer said.
That information also affects programs important to local businesses.
“You take something like the [U.S. Department of Agriculture’s] small business loan programs,” said Clark Casteel, president and CEO of the Danville Regional Foundation. “They look at the census to determine where those funds are going.”
From a political standpoint, under-counting can result in an area not getting the representation they deserve in the legislature or Congress.
“If your part of Virginia is under-counted, it’s going to have more people than those counted,” Reamer said. “People’s representation in Congress will be diluted.”
Warner said the U.S. census is looking for workers. Those interested in applying can go to www.2020census.gov/jobs. The pay rate for Danville is $14.50 per hour, plus gas reimbursement of 58 cents per mile driven, Warner said. Hours are flexible.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.