2020 census to make sure ‘everyone gets counted’

The Washington State Complete Count Committee is chaired by former Governor and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and combines the expertise and knowledge of a representative group of local community, business, philanthropic, and elected leaders. Courtesy of Governor’s Office

State, county and city governments around the nation are lining up marketing and outreach campaigns about the 2020 census to make sure the population counts and demographic information is as accurate as possible since the data collected during the official federal count will be used to calculate everything from federal funding and representation in the nation’s capital.

Local governments, agencies and community groups have formed Pierce County Complete Count Committee to craft marketing messages to make sure Pierce County residents submit their census forms or otherwise get officially counted.

Tacoma is preparing to fund $25,000 from the Council’s Contingency Fund toward what is projected to be a $250,000 effort that will be spearheaded by the Pierce County Auditor’s Office and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.

“It is very important that we get an accurate count,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said.

The United States Census Count occurs every 10 years and collects demographic information on residents that is then used for many important fiscal decisions, including the allocation of state and federal funding, calculations for economic development investments and the redistricting of legislative districts. About 300 financial assistance programs created by Congress rely on data derived from the census to guide the distribution of hundreds of billions of federal dollars to states and local areas for everything from roads and schools to hospitals and post offices.

Businesses often also use the aggregated information to determine the location of new stores or commercial ventures.

The local effort, which includes similar efforts in King and Snohomish counties, will dovetail into a statewide “Complete Count” that Gov. Jay Inslee kickstarted earlier this year. State officials actually began preparing for the 2020 census more than two years ago since Washington has a large population of hard-to-count residents and recent economic reports concluded that the state loses out on $4,800 each year for every household that isn’t counted in the census. In 2015, census data led to $13.7 billion in federal funds coming to Washington, which translated into about $1,914 per person. Census estimates help determine the allocation of approximately $200 million to counties and cities from the state general fund each year.

“There is so much at stake in the census count,” Inslee said during the first meeting of the state’s census-preparation efforts. “Washington State must be ready, proactive and prepared to supplement where and when the federal government falls short. I am committed to ensuring that all of our communities are counted and that our state receives the federal representation and resources it is entitled to.”

While much of the work so far has been organizational, residents have already seen notices about working for the census and will start seeing more commercials and posters promoting the effort in early 2019. A local census office will open in August. The official day of the census is April 1, 2020.

The 2020 census already faces a few challenges that previous counts didn’t. Chief among them is under a legal cloud and involve the potential inclusion of a survey question about the person’s citizenship status. Several states – including Washington – have challenged the proposed question out of fear that people would not participate in the census if their immigration or naturalization status were included on an official federal form.

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