Census bureau ramps up for 2020

Jill Schramm/MDN Kevin Iverson, North Dakota census office manager, left, and Alan Organ, partnership specialist with the Census Bureau, present information on the 2020 census to stakeholders in Minot Wednesday.

Filling out an online questionnarie will become one of the ways to be counted in America when the 10-year census takes place in 2020.

People will still be able to mail in a questionnaire or call a telephone number, but access to a secure website could make it easier than ever to register with the census, said Alan Organ, partnership specialist with the Denver Region of the U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday.

Organ and Kevin Iverson, North Dakota Census Office manager in Bismarck, were in Minot to meet with stakeholders to begin laying the local groundwork for ensuring an accurate count.

Accurate counts are important in determining government representation, but every missed person also can cost a North Dakota community $19,100 in federal assistance over 10 years, according to the state census office. A missed household can result in a loss of $44,312. If the statewide census count is off by 0.1 percent, the loss could be $15 million.

An example of the importance of accurate census data is the City of Tolley in its inquiry into a federal USDA grant for sanitary sewer lift station repair. Errant 2010 census data showing a median household income of $177,000 disqualified the community from aid, according to Souris Basin Planning Council, which was involved in the request. The planning council is working with an organization to conduct an income survey that can be used instead of census data.

Census data in 2010 also showed an overcount of Tolley’s households at 45. Tolley has only about 47 residents.

Communities can appeal their census results, but ensuring cities and counties are engaged in the process to get accurate counts and catch any errors is one of the aims of getting stakeholders involved early.

“We think we need to do a better job this time around,” Iverson said of the 2020 count. “Getting this right is absolutely critical.”

One challenge facing the Census Bureau is finding census workers because of North Dakota’s low unemployment rate. The bureau is hiring and will begin to count housing units in preparation for the census.

During 2019, the bureau will canvass addresses, ramp up local staffing and organize Complete Count Committees to enlist local stakeholders in promoting an accurate census.

Organ said certain populations will be counted differently in 2020. College students, armed forces members, nursing home residents and others living in congregate centers will be counted through their centers. No longer will parents count their college students as residents in their homes. Armed forced members living in cities like Minot will be counted as other residents of those cities.

There also will be efforts to better identify difficult-to-count populations, such as the homeless. A person without an address who may be couch-surfing or staying somewhere temporarily would be counted where housed on April 1, 2020.

Anyone who is not a citizen, including immigrants and foreign students, should be counted, Organ said. Being included in the count does not grant citizenship or its privileges nor does it affect residency for purposes of voting, driver’s licensing or vehicle registration, he said. All information provided on a census form is confidential and is not shared with other government agencies or any nongovernmental entity.

“Whatever we count in 2020 has to be good for 10 years,” Organ said, noting annual population estimates are built off those census numbers.

People will begin receiving their census forms in March 2020. Online registration will open March 23. Followup reminders will be sent and a census worker will visit those who fail to respond to the reminders.

North Dakotans had an initial response rate of 74 percent in 2010. In Ward County, the response rate was 77 percent, with the lowest response, 63 percent, at Minot Air Force Base. Higher response rates reduce the need for and cost of followup visits by census workers.

Census results are due to the president before Dec. 31, 2020. Information becomes available to the states in January 2021.