Yes, the census really matters

Originally published in Utah Business.

Twenty-one years ago, I sat in a car in our nation’s capital with demographers from Illinois and Missouri. The head of the Population Division for the US Census Bureau had just picked us up from our hotel and we were driving across Key Bridge into Georgetown because we were in DC to provide input from the states on how to improve Census 2000. 

We were talking about a census concept known as “usual place of residence,” this, essentially, is identified by the place that you sleep at night. It was during this conversation that I realized that Utah’s 11,000 missionaries (at the time) would not be included in Utah’s 2000 Census count, and that gave me pause.

Several months later I found myself in the Utah State Capitol as the 2000 Census results were released. A group of us were in a cubicle standing around a computer as the Census Bureau director explained the apportionment counts―the process of dividing 435 seats in Congress to the 50 states. Utah did not receive an additional congressional seat. 

My fear came to life when a member of the media asked the director which state was next in line to receive a new member of Congress. “Utah,” he said, “in a very close call.” After a lot of drama and a Supreme Court challenge, Utah fell 80 people short of gaining a new seat. 

I share this story for a reason. Every person counts. April 1, 2020 is Census Day, and it’s crucial that you fill out your form. The Census count is the largest peacetime mobilization of the federal government. Over the next few weeks, the Census Bureau will count every person living in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and five US territories. 

And, I do mean everyone―as long as they meet the “usual place of residence” criterion or are a member of the armed forces. And while that still does not include Utahns living abroad, it does include everyone―citizen or not―that lives within the confines of Utah.

Here’s what The Census means to Utah: 


Analysts do not expect Utah to gain another congressional seat this year, but the Census will impact in-state representation through the redistricting process for state and local government representation, including the state legislature, city councils, county commissions, school boards, and more. I expect fast-growing areas such as Wasatch County, Washington County, Utah County, and the southwest quadrant of Salt Lake County (Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale) to gain increased representation.


The Census also means money. A study out of George Washington University estimates that Utah received $9 billion in federal funding in 2017 based on the 2010 Census count. That’s approximately $2,800 for every woman, man, and child in the Beehive State. Compound that by a factor of 10 to capture the full impact over a decade. Federal assistance programs that use Census Bureau data include Medicare, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Pell grants, school lunch, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Special Education, Head Start, and more.


The Census also informs planning decisions at all levels of society. In the public sector, Census data informs where we build roads, invest in transit, locate fire and police stations, build hospitals and schools, and other infrastructure and public safety decisions. In the private sector, the Census helps small and large businesses target their customers, plan logistics, market products, and many other activities that help business succeed. A world without the Census is a world without the light that information provides.

Importantly, responses to the Census are absolutely confidential because it’s the law. No law enforcement or government agency can use the data collected and researchers can only use data without personal identifiers. And, despite a few attempts, the 2020 Census will not include questions about citizenship status.

I’m a huge fan of the decennial Census, so I encourage you to fill out your form online or mail it in. It only takes a few minutes but it will have a lasting impact on our community.