The challenges confronting the U.S. this year are unprecedented in our lifetimes. A global pandemic, an economic downtown, powerful hurricanes, rampaging wildfires, and more have all combined to create a historic moment unlike anything many of us have experienced before, and of course this is all happening amid the backdrop of a presidential election year. Unfortunately, often lost among these headline-grabbing developments has been the U.S. Census, the once-a-decade process by which our federal government accounts for every American who calls this country home.
With all that’s happened this year, however, collecting the information needed for the Census has been uniquely difficult, especially in more remote, rural areas. As with all else during the pandemic, the process has been slowed down for various reasons – and many areas risk being undercounted as a result, due to a looming September 30 deadline for all Census data to be collected.
Undercounting could have immense repercussions financially and politically that reverberate through our nation for the decade to come. In fact, undercounting a state by even as little as one percent would have serious ramifications.
For example, according to a report released this month, for each individual person not counted in my home state North Carolina, there would be a $988 annual reduction in health care funding, a $1,203 annual loss of education funding, and a $186 loss in job training each year. Considered alone, these numbers may not stand out, but they add up quickly. Undercounting North Carolina by even one percent of our population would lose us nearly $100 million in federal funding. These are our tax dollars that should be coming back to our state – and funding we can’t afford to miss out on.
With all of the troubles facing our nation, every lost dollar in federal funding matters even more than it would usually. Unfortunately, a number of states are still facing challenges in completing their counting, and currently stand to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in funding as a result. To address this problem, it would be best for those in Congress to recognize the unique circumstances we face and postpone the Census collection deadline beyond September 30. This way, we can ensure that every American is properly counted and that each community can receive the full benefits of the taxes it has been paying, instead of those funds being redirected to areas which were more fully counted.
Beyond federal funding, the results of the Census will shape the face of our politics for the next decade. Census data is how the federal government apportions seats in the House of Representatives and right now, the highest response rates are coming from traditionally blue states like New York and California, while many traditionally red states are behind in their count. If that continues, then more conservative states like my native North Carolina will be underrepresented in Congress and federal policy will be far less likely to reflect those states’ interests and needs.
This is precisely why we need everyone from both sides of the aisle to come together and find a way to move back the September 30 deadline. It is in the best interests of all Americans to do so, and I am sure that Senator Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s other members of Congress will work to come to an agreement with their colleagues in Washington.
What happens this year will shape the future for our country. Beyond the presidential election, the Census will determine how our taxpayer dollars are allocated, how our taxpayers are represented, and as a result, how the next ten years will look in the United States. Because of this, the right thing to do is to push back the deadline for collecting the data we need in order to make sure the Census is done right.
Ted Alexander is a member of the North Carolina State Senate.