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:
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.