4 reasons you should complete the 2020 census including schools, health care, and even roads in Birmingham


Children playing at school. School budgets can be affected by census information
Funding for school programs and the location of new schools is just one of the many things determined by the census count. Picture for illustration – PreSchool Partners, a non-profit preschool program.  Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

What do community services, schools, health care, jobs, public safety, construction,and roads all have in common? They are all affected by the information collected as part of the US Census every ten years. We find out why completing the next census in 2020 is such a huge deal for our communities in Birmingham and beyond.

What is the census?

Survey. The next US census will take place in 2020
The US Census is a survey which is undertaken every 10 years. Photo by Nik MacMillan

The census is a survey count of every resident in the United States which happens every ten years.

This count of the population and households across the country is used to allocate congressional seats for each state and to calculate the distribution of $675 billion in federal funds each year.

By April 2020, all households will receive an invitation to participate in the census. There will be three options to respond: online, by phone or by mail. When completing the census the key date for the 2020 count is to note where you are living on April 1.

Why completing the census is so important

Ribbon cutting ceremony
Ribbon cutting of the Christ Health Center Mental Health Clinic – a Federally Qualified Health Center that accepts Medicaid, uninsured, and underserved patients. The amount of federal funding available for programs like this is determined from census information. Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

I spoke with Carlos Torres, Senior Program Officer at The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to learn more about the census.

The Community Foundation has been igniting passion for transformational change in the greater Birmingham area for 60 years, and works towards fostering equity and inclusion within the region as one of its key priorities.

The ten minutes or so that it takes to complete the census also goes a long way towards securing equity and inclusion within communities.

“The information collected by the census will help the Birmingham area and its diverse communities ensure our voice in national government,” Torres said,“it will directly affect how much funding our community receives over the next ten years, and will provide data for our community to plan for the future”.

4 things that depend on the census that you may not know

1) The U.S. Congress uses the census count to determine how many seats a state will have within the U.S. House of Representatives

US Congress seats are affected by census results
Seats in the US Congress are affected by census results. Photo by Louis Vasquez

Torres told me “if households don’t complete the census, there’s a possibility Alabama will lose one of it’s 7 seats at Congress. This will affect the voice that Alabama has at a national level.”

2) Federal budget allocation

The federal government uses census numbers to allocate the national funding budget  for essential services like; education, housing, healthcare, transportation networks, social services, public safety, and job training.

After school program
Public schools and library budgets come from federal funds which are determined by the census count. Pictured – Birmingham Library’s Teen Engineer BHM after school program.  Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

“In the 2010 census, there was an under-count of about 100,000 households throughout Alabama,” said Torres, “a household could be made up of one person or ten people. It was estimated that approximately 200,000 people across the state were unaccounted for on the 2010 census. Over the last ten years this ‘under-count has meant a loss of $1.6 BILLION in Federal Government funding which was not allocated to Alabama”.

After school program
Education and training benefit from federal funding, which is determined by census information. Pictured – Birmingham Library’s Teen Engineer BHM after school program.  Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

3) Business Data

Businesses use census population information to decide where to put the factories, build shopping centers, movie theaters, banks and offices.

Birmingham, Alabama. Big businesses bring jobs to regions based upon census information
Big businesses bring jobs to regions based upon census information. Photo by Jon Eastwood

In general, if less people are counted than actually live here – we could be a lot worse off in terms of employment. Corporations use census figures as part of their business planning.

4) The school History grades of your great, great, grandchildren!

Children writing
Census information may be studied when it is released after 72 years. Photo by Santi Vedri’

Well, not literally! However, all individual census records are protected for 72 years, after which point they’ll be released and your great, great grand-kids might end up using the information for their homework or to create their ‘Family Tree’!

How the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham is working towards improving the census response rate

The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham is working with communities that are traditionally low response areas, by funding and working with a state-wide collaborative to talk about the census.

Hard to Reach Collaborative. Jay Williams (Right)
Jay Williams (Right), State Coordinator for the Hard to Count Collaborative. Photo supplied

Jay Williams, State Coordinator for the Hard to Count Collaborative said,

“A lot of people don’t know what the census is tied to and how it affects their community. The census impacts ten years of their life. It is a snapshot that has significant implications – if people are not counted, they cannot be heard”.

HICA Hispanic Interest Coalition for Alabama
Members of the Hispanic Interest Coalition for Alabama promote the importance of the census within communities. Photo via the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

The Hard to Count Collaborative includes The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and Alabama Giving as strategic partners.

The Collaborative is comprised of 4 community-based non-profits and 1 policy based non-profit; VOICES for Alabama’s Children, ¡HICA!, The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and The Blackbelt Community Foundation are partners in the collaborative effort to advocate for hard to reach communities in terms of representation, as well as their participation in the Census 2020. 

See why the Census is so important

Williams, said “We are all stronger when we are all counted. We are helping people to start talking about the census now, so that we can all be included in 2020”.

Carlos Torres explained, “Everybody needs to be counted. Whether they are counted, or not counted, it will have a direct impact on their community resources and that of their children. Whether it’s at work, at school, at church, or at your bowling league. We want people in the community to spread the word that it’s important to complete the census when they start being distributed next year.”

Find out more about Census 2020 HERE

Sponsored by:

Jon Eastwood
Jon Eastwood

Originally from Wales (UK) and a fluent Welsh speaker. Longtime sustainability and recycling champion. Former county recycling manager in the UK. Career highlights include introducing innovative recycling systems and achieving a point where households throw out trash just once a month. Competed in international coastal rowing championships and followed Wales throughout Europe in their Rugby and Soccer endeavours.

Articles: 75