Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau runs a count of each person living in the US. We’re honored to chair the business subcommittee of the Austin-Travis County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, a volunteer committee tasked with increasing awareness and motivation of residents to respond to the 2020 Census. In addition to our work with the committee, we’ll be providing the community with information on the Census and its challenges. This is the fifth article of a series covering these issues leading up to the 2020 Census, which launches April 1, 2020. In this post, we outline the what, why, and how of census funding. Review our most recent post on the citizenship question and our first post for an overview of the census and why every count matters.

In order to fulfill its constitutional mandate, the census bureau will work to accomplish a complete and accurate count of population and housing by ensuring that everyone is counted once, only once, and in the right place. So what goes into the logistics that make this possible and how are they being funded? (To read more about why a complete and accurate count matters, check out ATA’s recent posts here and here). 

According to the Census Bureau, “The FY 2020 budget request of $6.3 billion (including $1.02 billion in funds from prior-year unobligated balances) for the 2020 Census will enable the Census Bureau to conduct a census of population and housing and disseminate the results to the President, the states, and the American people.”

So what exactly is this money going towards? There are six main areas the Census Bureau prioritizes for a complete and accurate census count and this funding goes to support those activities in establishing where to count, motivating people to respond, self-response, group quarters, nonresponse follow up, tabulating data and releasing census results. 

Key Activities supported by the FY2020 Census Budget Request: 

  • Conducting the major self-response operations of the 2020 Census
  • Ensuring 2020 Census awareness and motivating response with a robust advertising campaign
  • Nurturing key partnerships to bolster 2020 Census participation
  • Conducting the major field operations of the 2020 Census
  • Supporting census operations with systems and technology
  • Providing supporting field infrastructure and logistics management
  • After collecting the data and ensuring quality
  • Mitigating and managing all program risks

But is this enough funding for a complete and accurate count? In 2010, the Census Bureau spent 12.3 billion on the census. In 2012, the Census Bureau was mandated by Congress not to spend more than their 2010 budget on the 2020 Census. According to the Washington Post, the costs of the Census have steadily increased from $39 per household in 1990, $70 in 2000, to $96 per household in 2010. This year’s census is projected to be more than twice as expensive as the previous decades. Politico warns that the 2020 census is shaping up to be the most expensive and complicated headcount in history. With the advent of online responses, and more and more U.S. citizens falling into “hard to reach” categories, the Bureau cannot afford budgetary restraints. 

“Already, the Census Bureau has had to cancel tests in 2017, reduced the 2018 End-To-End tests, and has been delayed in testing its IT systems for 2020 because of funding uncertainties” The Brennan Center

States across the U.S. have been stepping up to fill the funding gap, outreach and promote the Census, and ensure a complete and accurate count by organizing Complete Count Committees (CCC). According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, “These committees convene trusted voices across sectors, including leaders of schools, local businesses, public program offices, medical providers, libraries, places of worship, and elected offices to implement targeted outreach campaigns that will increase response rates for the 2020 Census.” Texas is one of only 13 states without a CCC, but local communities across Texas have been stepping up to support Census work. Texas Counts is one of these state-wide campaigns that seeks to to help increase the count in hard-to-count areas of Texas and hard-to-count populations by providing strategic, coordinated assistance and targeted funding to ensure all Texans are counted in the 2020 Census.

So what can Texans do to help ensure a lack of federal funding doesn’t negatively impact the Census count in our state? Well first, Texas could form its own CCC through an executive order from the Governor- this seems like a good place to start. Helping to support the work of organizations like Texas Counts is another! Talking to coworkers, friends, and acquaintances about the importance of the 2020 Census to all Texans is something we all should strive to do. Because every count matters. 

Future installments will address the following topics and challenges as they relate to the 2020 Census:

  • Methods: Internet, rural broadband, and data privacy
  • District maps, gerrymandering, voting rights and civil rights enforcement

What topics are you interested in? What would you like to be covered? Tweet @AustinTech with census topics you’d like to learn more about.

This post was researched and written by Jada Fraser on behalf of Austin Tech Alliance.