Ashley Holbert

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Research by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that over a million children were undercounted during the last census in 2010 and minorities and homeless populations were at a greater risk of being miscounted.

The 2020 census begins nationwide this month and the U.S. Census Bureau is working to get an accurate count of every person in local communities, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

An accurate count is essential as the resulting data determines congressional representation, federal funding and the locations of new hospitals, roads and schools.

“The census is important for multiple reasons, the first being that it’s mandated in the U.S. Constitution that we conduct a census or a count of our population every 10 years,” said Lindy Studds, a media specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau. “The real importance I think boils down to two things which is political power and money.”

Studds was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast to discuss the census.

For college students, Pell grants, mental health and general healthcare services, and nutrition programs are all affected by census data, said Studds.

The Census Bureau will offer online census-taking to ensure a greater level of ease and privacy and it has reworded a number of questions to include unconventional family arrangements, in order to get a more accurate count.

Discrepancies from the 2010 census were often the result of families in nontraditional living situations, who were unsure how to count family members, especially children, temporarily living in their homes.

“We missed about 5 percent of our babies and toddlers (in 2010), which was about a million children,” said Studds. “And that’s very important, because those kids over the next decade are going to end up in the school system and there’s a lot of resources and services that they are going to need.”

Lindy Studds 2
Lindy Studds, a media specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau who partners with community leaders across the region to spread the word about getting an accurate census count, was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast (photo: Ashley Holbert).

To accommodate nontraditional family arrangements, new census questions will ask one person from each household to submit a count of how many people sleep under their roof.

“I have a very unconventional family right now. Both of my adult daughters live here, one of them because her husband has cancer and needs more assistance, and my nephew lives with me to go to college.” said Cathy Crawford, a Fort Mill homeowner.

“It could be hard to know who to count, but we’re all family and we’re a society that does what it takes to be able to do family right.”

Additionally, there is concern that undocumented immigrants will be afraid to participate in the census because they are living in the country illegally. Last year, this issue was amplified when a question about citizenship was proposed.

“The possibility of a citizenship question on the census was a hot topic and the Supreme Courts decided in the summer of 2019 that the question would not be included on the Census,” said Studds. “No one is going to be asked to establish their status.”

For those who do not speak English as their first language, census questionnaires are available in 13 different languages, including Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese. Census-takers fluent in these languages will be available on the census bureau’s toll-free phone line to help record responses.

Homeless populations are also at a high risk to be miscounted, as many do not have mail and internet options to fill out a questionnaire. This is a critical issue in Rock Hill, where local shelters are often at capacity with the number of homeless men and women in the community.

“Everyone counts during a census and that includes those experiencing homelessness,” Studds said. “We partner with service-based operations in local communities that work with that population on a daily basis, like your shelters, your laundry and shower services and your soup kitchens.

“There are so many vital services and programs that are funded by those federal dollars and we want to make sure those communities get that.”

The U.S. Census Bureau hopes to get more accurate results this census, as it attempts to accommodate community diversity.

Winthrop students can also play a part in ensuring an accurate count across the county by counting their household if they live with roommates off campus. One student from each apartment or house should fill out a questionnaire for everyone sleeping under their roof.

Census Day takes place on April 1, but most residents in York County will receive an invitation to participate in the census by mid-March.