For discussion

August 2018

The 2020 Census is Right Around the Corner and the Potential Impacts for North Dakota are Significant

Kevin Iverson has served as the Manager of the North Dakota Census Office at the Department of Commerce in Bismarck since 2012. The office functions as both the State’s Data Center and the state’s representative in the Federal-State Population Estimate Program. In addition, Kevin is appointed as the Governor’s Liaison to the Census Bureau and the state’s executive branch representative to the Census 2020 Redistricting Data Program. His education includes both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration from UND. Prior to his current position as the Census Office Manager, Kevin worked as a research analyst for the Labor Market Information Center at Job Service North Dakota where he was responsible for Labor Availability and Talent Initiative studies. He is in his second career after retired from the United States Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel with 23 years of service in 2005. In this article, Kevin highlights information regarding the upcoming Census 2020 and stresses the importance of counting every North Dakota resident as the population will determine allocation of political representation and federal funding distribution for each state over the next 10 years.


Less than two years from now, April 1, 2020, the next decennial census will be conducted. Each census aims to count the entire population of the country, and at the location where each person usually lives. The ultimate goal of the census is to count everyone once and in the right place. The census asks questions of people in homes and group living situations, including how many people live or stay in each home, the sex, age and race of each person.

Each census is used to determine the distribution of political power and taxpayers’ dollars for the next decade. This is because voting districts and the distribution of both federal and state funds is based on the outcome of the resident count. While the count of residents itself maybe of marginal interest to many residents, every person in the state will be impacted in one way or another.

This once-in-every-ten-years effort is a huge undertaking. In fact, a census is the largest non-military mobilization that takes place in the United States. Every household will be contacted by mail. Many households will be visited in person by an employee of the Census Bureau. In North Dakota alone, more than 3,000 employees will be needed during the peak effort months of March through May of 2020.

A Brief History of the Census

Nationally, the decennial census dates back to 1790 when Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State took on the task of counting all residents of the United States in the original 13 states plus four new states. The basic reason for the census in 1790 was the same as it will be in 2020…count all people in the country in the correct location to then use the respective numbers to allocate political representation and federal funding distribution per state.

Specifically, the framers of the Constitution of the United States chose population to be the basis for sharing political power rather than membership in the aristocrat, wealth or ownership of land. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States reads: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers..."

Data on North Dakota’s population dates back to the Census of 1870 while North Dakota was still part of Dakota Territory. In that year, only 2,405 residents were counted in what was to become North Dakota (American Indians were not counted). By 1880, that figure had jumped to nearly 37,000 residents and continued to grow through the 1930 Census when more than 681,000 individuals were counted. Census 2020 is highly expected to be the first census in which the state is counted at more than 700,000 residents. This upcoming census, North Dakota will almost certainly retire the previous census high mark of 681,000 residents counted in 1930, a record that will have lasted for 90 years.

Importance of Census 2020 to North Dakota

Representation in the Democratic Process: The United States constitutionally mandated decennial census is intended to ensure equal representation in an elected government. This is true, not only at the federal-levels, but also at state-level and below.

The count from the census is used to determine the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. It is unlikely that North Dakota will regain a second seat in the House as a result of the 2020 Census. In order to achieve that, North Dakota would have to gain almost 400,000 additional residents. The state is estimated to have gained more than 80,000 individuals since Census 2010, and we are certain to see a shift in voting districts in the state after 2020.

Return of Resident Tax Dollars to the State: The most recent decennial census count establishes the proportional distributions for federal funds distributions. Federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors. Our state and communities benefit the most when every single resident is counted. When people respond to the census, they help their community obtain its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.

Informed Decision Making: Governments at all levels, private sector business, non-profit groups and private citizens use census count every day to make choices in determining everything from where to build a bridge across a river to where the best place is to open a daycare. Census counts and the associated socio-economic statistics are a cornerstone of virtually well-conceived public and private business plans. Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness. Businesses use census data to decide where to build plants, offices and stores, and create associated jobs. Developers use the census to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods.

It is also about the dollars: It is easy to understand the importance of the census when you look at the financial figures. In fiscal year 2015, $1,445,647,171 ($1.45 billion) in federal funds for programs like Medicaid, highway construction, Head Start, Foster Care, SNAP, Low Income Energy Assistance, Special Education and other programs were obligated in North Dakota based upon resident count from Census 2010 and subsequent annual population estimates.i That means approximately $1,910 in federal funds per resident was spent that year.  Of all the statistics we live with, the census count is one of the longest lasting as the census occurs only once every 10 years. Not counting everyone can cost North Dakota dearly.  The approximate costs to the state will be:

  • For one missed resident - $19,100.
  • One missed household (average 2.32 persons) - $44,312.
  • A state-wide census count off by just .1 percent - $15 million.

Who Gains from Participating in the Census? Everyone does! If you drive on public roads, have children attending school, or anything that uses public services or infrastructure, you have a stake in the outcome of this census. Every person needs to be counted if they reside in the state.  That includes citizens and non-citizens; those here legally or not legally.

Unfortunately, those who tend to have the most to gain by being counted also tend to be the most difficult to count. As some people do not understand the impact of the data on their daily lives and their community, they are less likely to willingly participate.

North Dakota’s Unique Challenges: North Dakota has several groups that are likely to present challenges in getting every last resident counted. North Dakota’s large population of American Indians, recent arrivals in the Bakken oilfield, immigrants, those in very rural areas, foreign students and legal residents of other states (generally military and students) who spend most of their time in North Dakota represent some of the challenges to getting everyone counted.  Data from past censuses shows these groups have lower response rates.

What Can Be Done to Ensure Everyone Gets Counted? 

Local voices are far more effective than those far away from one’s home. The Census Bureau strongly encourages states and local communities to form Complete Count Committees that help encourage everyone in a community to respond to the census form when it arrives at their home. 

Complete Count Committees are the local trusted voices that help communicate that the census is both safe to respond to and vital for their community. The Census Bureau recommends these committees include representatives from government, business, the media, education, community organizations and religious organizations such as churches and synagogues. These committees are encouraged to adopt their own structure based on their unique community needs, and develop a strategy oriented to their local requirements. The focus of these committees is to raise awareness of the census throughout their area, and to motivate every household to participate in the census by responding online, by mail or by phone.

Census 2020 is among the most important near-term events we face in every community, county and tribe in the state as it will affect us for an entire decade. The impacts, both financially and politically, are substantial and worth our attention.


i 20CFD%2008-18-17.pdf

More discussion

North Dakota Wellness Chats: Building awareness, one month at a time
November 2023

Working Together to Nourish North Dakotans
June 2022

FARRMS: Growing a More Sustainable Future for North Dakota
March 2022

Awesome: When a Foundation isn’t a Foundation
February 2022

Shining Light on Diabetes
November 2021

Marie Hvidsten: Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Program
June 2021

Katherine Roth: Resources to Support North Dakota’s Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Municipalities
January 2021

Brittany Sickler: What is America’s Seed Fund? Opportunity for North Dakota Innovators
December 2020

Madison Marion: Making Contact: The Experience of a Student Case Worker of COVID-19 in North Dakota
November 2020

Abby Tow & Micayla Bitz: Everyone Needs Help Sometimes.
June 2020

Louise Dardis: North Dakota needs you to complete Census 2020 to receive equitable funding when every resident is counted.
December 2019

Scott Meyer: Why Entrepreneurship Should Be Taught in North Dakota
September 2019

Luke Schaefer and Alissa Thiele: Coming Together to Help Students
April 2019

Jen Walla: Prairie Roots Community Fund
February 2019

Lindsey Leker: Creating Community with the use of Technology and Youth Leadership
January 2019

Megan Laudenschlager: Strengthen ND - Supporting and Accelerating Community Development in Rural North Dakota
December 2018

Jodi Bruns: NDSU Extension Takes Creative Approach to Enhancing Communities and Improving Leaders
September 2018

Kevin Iverson: The 2020 Census
August 2018

Josh Askvig: Building Communities for All
June 2018

Jessica Nelson: CHARISM -- Building a Stronger, Better Neighborhood Since 1994
April 2018

Katherine Roth: The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center – A Newcomer to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Central North Dakota
March 2018

5 Years of North Dakota Compass!
February 2018

Alexandre Cyusa: Folkways -- Building a vibrant community one memorable experience at a time
December 2017

AIPHRC: Engaging and Partnering with Tribes: American Indian Public Health Resource Center Improving Public Health
November 2017

Josh Hoper: Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
October 2017

Diane Solinger: Jeremiah Program ignites hopeful journey for single mothers, creates better future for the next generation
September 2017

Kelly Sassi & Denise Lajimodiere: Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop: Enacting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy in a Summer Program for Native American Youth
August 2017

Kristi Huber: Do you know the Return on Investment on your charitable giving?
May 2017

Jesseca White: Disrupting the Revolving Door: A look at alternative justice in Fargo
January 2017

Leola Daul: Heart-n-Soul Community Cafe: A Place Where All Are Welcome to Enjoy a Local, Healthy, and Delicious Meal no Matter their Ability to Pay
October 2016

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission: A Multijurisdictional Food Policy Council
August 2016

5 Ways to Join the Compass Community
May 2016

Inform, Improve, Inspire: North Dakota's First Ever Demographics Conference
March 2016

Donene Feist: Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs in North Dakota
January 2016

ND Head Start: Vibrant Economy Leads to Workforce Shortages - Head Start Programs Statewide Are Feeling the Impact
December 2015

Lynette Schaff: Bullying- Just a Schoolyard Problem? Think Again!
November 2015

Jim Deal: Changes to Come
October 2015

Janis Cheney: AARP- Discover Your Possibilities
September 2015

John Trombley: Competition is Tough; Why Make it Tougher?
August 2015

Nick Ybarra: Keeping the Trail
July 2015

Megan Laudenschlager: Engaging Millennials
June 2015

Kim Bushaw: Brain Development
May 2015

2015 Legislative District Profiles
April 2015

ND Compass Points
March 2015

Heidi Demars: Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
February 2015

Helen Danielson: National Mentoring Month
January 2015

Sharz Miar: Giving the Gift of Hope for the Holidays
December 2014

Cheryl Ann Kary (Hunkuotawin): Talking Indian: A L/N/Dakota Model of Oratory
November 2014

North Dakota Legislative District Profiles
October 2014

Edwin Erickson Jr.: Soybeans- Growing an Important Commodity for North Dakota
September 2014

Jennifer Braun: A Look at Early Childhood Education in Western North Dakota
August 2014

Jordyn Wallenborn: Ticks Bite: Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
July 2014

Lorraine Shepherd-Davis: Filling a Need in the Community
June 2014

Howard Barlow: Helping Build a Better Community
May 2014

Denise Hellekson: Using Mindfulness to Calm Your Busy Mind
April 2014

Melissa Sobolik: End hunger through community partnerships
March 2014

Jacob Sowers: Places and their story: More than just a spot on the map?
February 2014

Neil Scharpe: "Protecting North Dakota's Quality of Life"
January 2014

Donald Warne: "American Indian Health Disparities in North Dakota"
November 2013

Kay Schwarzwalter: "Community building through community gardens"
October 2013

Jasper Schneider: "Rural Development in North Dakota"
August 2013

Dean Bangsund: "Economic contribution of the petroleum industry in North Dakota"
July 2013

Jane Strommen: "Addressing the education and support needs of older North Dakotans and their family members"
June 2013

Randi Roth: "In Support of North Dakota Communities"
March 2013

Richard Rathge: "Vision of North Dakota Compass"
February 2013

Paul Mattessich: "What's the real poverty rate?"
January 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2024. All rights reserved.