Since the country was founded, the United States Constitution has mandated that every ten years a population count will take place, an act known as the U.S. Census. In 1790, the first census was conducted, counting an estimated population of 3.9 million.
More recently, in 2010 the country’s estimated population was 308.7 million, a 9.7 percent increase from 2000, when the population was roughly 281.4 million.
April 1, 2020 will be the reference day for the 24th iteration of the census, marking an important day for all Americans because, believe it or not, the population data that is gathered has big implications. Things like U.S. Congressional apportionment, federal funding and state, local and federal redistricting are all dependent on having an accurate population count.
According to the Census Bureau, the questionnaires will be mailed out to every household between March 12–20, 2020. This is also the first year where people can fill out their census information online; residents can also complete the application by phone.
It’s estimated that the 2010 census missed about 2.1 percent of the African-American population and 1.5 percent of the Hispanic population — accounting for nearly 1.5 million people. As a result, this can have a negative impact on how those communities are represented, both on a local and national level.
So what does this mean for Birmingham residents and how can you get involved?
Here are a few reasons why your participation is so important:
· Congressional apportionment: The number of citizens that are counted throughout the state determines how the 435 U.S. Congressional seats are distributed. Following the last census, these states gained one or more Congressional seats: Arizona, Florida (+2), Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas (+4), Utah and Washington. Ten states lost one or more seats in Congress: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York (-2), Ohio (-2) and Pennsylvania.
· Redistricting: Based on the census returns, local officials use the information to help redraw congressional, state, and local district boundaries to ensure each one contains roughly the same number of voters. This directly impacts the power of your vote and helps prevent gerrymandering.
· Federal funding for states and cities: Census totals help determine the amount of funding that state governments and municipalities receive from the federal government for the next decade. The census affects up to $900 billion in federal grants, payments and loans that are distributed to states and municipalities.
“Over the last decade, we’ve made some tremendous strides in Birmingham. Much has been said about the renaissance the Magic City has been experiencing, and that is due in large part to the people who have decided to call this city home,” Council President William Parker said. “Birmingham has positioned itself as not only a culinary gem on the national scene, but also a sports tourism destination. In order for us to be able to keep that momentum going, having access to federal grants and funding plays a very important role in that. Every person who lives here should be counted, because that accurate representation helps determine how much federal money we can have access to in order to help further our revitalization efforts in all corners of the city.”
In 2010, Birmingham’s population was 212,237 according to the census. Local officials are focusing efforts towards educating the public on why it’s important for every person be counted, regardless of citizenship or economic circumstances.
“We’d like to organize some informational town hall events that focus on the census,” Parker explained. “The more information we can get into the hands of our residents, the more likely they are to want to participate — every person plays a role in helping to secure more funding for the school system or add more Congressional seats in Alabama.”
In recent years, concerns over a citizenship question being added to the census have worried analysts who believe such a move would chill participation — roughly 7 percent of the country’s population is comprised of non-citizens. However, under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies.
On top of that, a federal judge issued an order last July definitively blocking the current administration from adding a citizenship question to the upcoming census.
“I was happy to see the citizenship question be blocked from appearing on the census because I believe that would only suppress participation among minority and immigrant families,” Parker said. “I, along with my colleagues on the Council, would love nothing more than to see every single person in Birmingham to participate. The information we glean from this census is going to help Birmingham continue its growth for the next decade and beyond. I’m in, are you?”