This Op-Ed by Action Utah Communications Director Melissa Nelson-Stippich originally appeared in the Deseret News. You can read it in its entirety here.
In a presidential election year, while the coronavirus pandemic is surging and Utahns are focused on protecting health, jobs and businesses, it would be easy to lose sight of the importance of the 2020 census. Yet census results will have a long-standing impact on the health, economy and government of Utah’s communities for many years to come.
Initiated in 1790, the U.S. census is a count of every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories. The census is mandated to take place every 10 years by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Every household in America received an invitation to respond to the short census questionnaire in March to provide critical data for lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others who provide daily services, products and support to our communities.
91.4 million households nationwide have completed their 2020 census forms, with some cities already achieving a 100% completion rate.
Although Utah is currently ranked 11th in the nation for total self-response of census surveys completed by household, some counties in our state are still lagging far behind. While Morgan and Davis counties report a 77% self-response rate, 13 counties have completed half or even less of their household surveys, with Rich County falling the farthest behind at only 12% total self-responses.
The lowest self-response rates of Utah counties include:
- Sanpete – 50.0%
- Grand – 49.8%
- Beaver – 38.8%
- Summit – 38.0%
- Emery – 35.9%
- Kane – 32.2%
- Wayne – 31.9%
- San Juan – 27.9%
- Duchesne – 27.0%
- Piute – 25.4%
- Garfield – 21.1%
- Daggett – 20.0%
- Rich – 11.7%
When people are missing from the census, resources and political power are distributed elsewhere. 2020 census data will be used for the next decade to draw congressional district lines, direct billions of dollars in federal funding, inform research and guide policy and business decisions. Locally, census results will have significant potential impacts on community resources and infrastructure, from funding school lunches to building roads and water and waste systems and from preparing for wildfires to providing housing assistance for older adults or preventing child abuse.
Utah’s census results in 2010 won Utah a fourth Congressional seat and informed the redistricting process of drawing new boundaries for Utah’s Congressional, state Senate and state House seats.
The 2020 census will affect up to $900 billion per year in grants, direct payments, loans and loan guarantees that the federal government distributes to states and individuals. Census survey results will not impact the overall amount of federal funding made available, but it will impact how those funds are distributed. Over the past decade, 2010 census data has been used to allocate billions of federal dollars to Utah, including over $350 million per year in federal highway funds alone.
Every household in America must fill out the census to be counted. Fortunately, filling out your census survey takes only minutes and can be completed online, by mail or over the phone. You may choose to respond by phone in 13 languages or by TDD. A census taker can also come to your home. 2020Census.gov provides information and FAQ’s, including guidance on how to respond to census questions.
According to the editors at the Southern Poverty Law Center, filling out the census is safe for undocumented residents and others. Personal information from census surveys cannot be sent to federal agencies, ICE, law enforcement or landlords and will not affect public benefits that a person currently receives. However, failing to fill out your household’s census survey removes your voice and reduces the voice of your community in future policy decisions.
Let’s not let Utah communities get left behind. Fill out your census survey form and encourage others to do so to ensure that all Utah households are counted.