News that the U.S. Census Bureau will end the 2020 Census count Wednesday, Sept. 30, a month earlier than planned, sparked fears across the country that the move will result in undercounts that could leave cities like Litchfield Park with less money in their coffers.
“As you know, state-shared revenue is based on population count as reported officially by the Census. If the Census Bureau is going to ‘stop’ the census, not going to do a complete job, then we most likely won’t get an accurate count,” Litchfield Park City Manager Bill Stephens said Tuesday. “It would be an estimated count at best. Litchfield Park has grown and is still growing, so an accurate census would be very helpful to our city toward securing our fair and accurate share of the state-shared revenue.”
Originally, the 2020 count was scheduled to end July 31, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the bureau to suspend field operations in March and ask Congress to move the deadline to Oct. 31. The request passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives as part of coronavirus-relief legislation bill but stalled in the U.S. Senate, prompting the deadline change to September.
The bureau announced Monday, Aug. 3, it intends to speed up the count without sacrificing completeness.
“As part of our revised plan, we will conduct additional training sessions and provide awards to enumerators in recognition of those who maximize hours worked,” Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham stated in a press release. “We will also keep phone and tablet computer devices for enumeration in use for the maximum time possible.”
Residents have three ways to responded to the biennial census questionnaire — by phone, mail and for the first time, online. Households that don’t respond are scheduled to be visited by census-takers, who should begin visiting Arizona neighborhoods and knocking on doors Tuesday, Aug. 11. They will continue visiting households until Sept. 30, and the bureau will continue accepting phone, mail and online responses through that date, Mr. Dillingham stated.
For information on how to identify census-takers in your neighborhood, click here.
“We are committed to a complete and accurate 2020 Census,” he stated. “To date, 93 million households, nearly 63 percent of all households in the nation, have responded to the 2020 Census. Building on our successful and innovative internet response option, the dedicated women and men of the Census Bureau, including our temporary workforce deploying in communities across the country in upcoming weeks, will work diligently to achieve an accurate count.”
As of Aug. 3, Arizona’s self-response rate was 59.7%, well under the national self-response rate of 63.0%. Maricopa County’s self-response rate was 63.5%. Litchfield Park has been ahead of the curve this year despite a summer slow down in self-response rates across the state.
“Litchfield Park’s self-response rate is currently at 70.2%, compared to the state average at 59.7%. At 70%, Litchfield Park has one of the highest self-response rates in our region,” Assistant City Manager Matthew Williams said Tuesday. “In 2010, Litchfield Park’s response rate was at 75%. City staff will continue to promote census response in the city.”
In addition to promoting the census on social media, Mr. Williams said the city purchased Facebook advertising, and put up four banners around the city to remind residents to respond to the census questionnaire.
In 2010, 98% of Litchfield Park residents were counted, which resulted in the city receiving $344 per person as part of its annual cut of four state-shared revenues: sales, income, vehicle license and gas taxes. That money helps the city provide services such as recreation programming, parks maintenance and development, police and fire, and street repairs and maintenance, among others.
The 2010 Census recorded Litchfield Park’s population as 5,476. The 2015 mid-decade count recorded the city’s population as 6,152, and in 2019, the population was estimated at 6,809. In March, Management Assistant Sonny Culbreth predicted the population will top 7,000.
“At $344 per person, that would be an additional $500,000,” in the city’s general fund budget annually, Mr. Williams said at the time.
The census touches nearly every aspect of life in America, including:
Congressional representation. A larger population may mean a larger voice in Congress. A fast-growing state like Arizona could pick up another seat in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives based on the 2020 count.
States’ share of $1.5 trillion in federal tax revenue distribution. Arizona receives $2,959 per person in federal dollars annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That money funds everything from Medicare and other health care programs for children and adults, to Head Start and school lunches, to road, highway and other infrastructure projects. For every Arizonan who isn’t uncounted, the state stands to lose $887 in federal funding, according to azcensus2020.gov, the state’s informational website on the 2020 Census. If just 1% of the state’s population is undercounted, Arizona would lose $62 million annually, for a total loss of $620 million through 2030, the website states.
Commerce. Businesses use the data collected to determine where to open new stores, restaurants, factories and offices, where to expand operations, where to recruit employees and which products and services to offer.
Real estate. Developers use census data to decide the location and type of housing to build based on population count and community demographics. The West Valley has become a hotbed of development, and an undercount could result in companies choosing to bypass cities like Litchfield Park and Goodyear.
Grassroots. Residents use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.
The 2020 Census questionnaire asks responders to report the number of people living in their household as if April 1, 2020, permanently or temporarily, and whether they rent or own the home. It also asks for the names, ages, dates of birth, genders and race of those living in the household, and whether they are of Hispanic, Latin or Spanish origin.
It does not ask for citizenship status. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 it was unconstitutional to include a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire.
Responses to the census are completely confidential. Under title 13 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot share census data with any other person, organization, court, business or government agency.
For more information on the census, visit 2020Census.gov. Arizona-specific information can be found at AZCensus2020.gov.
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-963-1697.