Census Results: Delays Continue For Important Data

February 11, 2021

Remembering back into the darkness of 2020 is painful, but somewhere in there we remember a push for Americans to do their part in being counted in the U.S. Census, constitutionally mandated to occur every ten years. As important as it is to so many aspects of American life, the process of counting our population is rarely scrutinized the way we wear out every other issue.

We know the Census “deadline” for Americans to be counted was originally April 1, then it was moved several times because of the COVID-19 crisis. The last deadline appeared to be October 31st.  Then somewhere in the news of last year’s grueling election and its aftermath we lost track of when the Census workers actually stopped counting.

An elderly person told us last week that they never got counted and was wondering what ever happened and why. It got us thinking, “What did happen?” How many other people sitting in their houses waiting for somebody to come by didn’t get counted? Yes, there were avenues for getting counted by mail, online, by phone. But even though Census leaders said there were workers reaching out to people, was there really an effort to go door-to-door like they used to in a determined attempt to reach everyone – in particular those not used to the old ways who aren’t tech savvy?

News was reported on December 31, 2020 by the Census Bureau, saying in a statement that it planned “to deliver a complete and accurate state population count for apportionment in early 2021, as close to the statutory deadline as possible.” Several articles mentioned continued delays over various political squabbles – finally culminating with the latest report in an NPR article that the report would be ready by April 30 – four months after the legal end-of-year deadline.

Why does it matter to us here in North Carolina? As one article put it, “…since 1790, the results of the federal census determine how more than $650 billion in federal funds for public education, public housing, roads and bridges, and more, will be distributed annually throughout the country. It also defines the number of seats each state is allocated in the House of Representatives.”

And the other important thing – the number of seats in Congress determines the number each state has in the Electoral College. So with the changing demographics of the U.S., shifting population in key states could influence the next election in 2022 considering the razor-thin margins in both U.S. House and Senate races.

Here in North Carolina, we are expected to be one of five states to gain a congressional seat after growing an estimated 10.7% since 2010.

So how the Census count ended up – how it actually came together in each state, and its accuracy – matters a lot. For states like North Carolina, its results could have a huge impact on our immediate political future.

One interesting aspect to the Census delay is that since the final report did not come in on President Trump’s watch, the Biden administration now will include illegal immigrants in the count that the Trump administration had sought to exclude in a July 2020 memo, according to a Newsweek article. So that’s another whole new political football to kick around.

The COVID crisis hopefully has taught us something about being patient. Hopefully, it’s just another situation where for some reason, the government seems to be dragging. But the long delays make you wonder why.

Meanwhile, to give you a brief glimpse of the kind of statistics and new data that could be coming, a recent January 11, 2021 analysis by the Brookings Institute based on latest Census Bureau data (prior to the 2020 Census count) showed U.S. population growth stagnating – that from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020, the nation grew by just 0.35%. This is the lowest annual growth rate since at least 1900. That information alone could inspire quite a lot of conversation as we wait for the actual Census numbers to be released.