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2020 census challenges Pierce County to beat record

By Staff | Mar 6, 2020

Pierce County, already known as home to the Geographical Center of North America and championship high school sports teams, holds another title that would impress many statisticians.

“I call Pierce County ‘The Geographical Center of Census High Response Rates!'” Kevin Iverson, who manages the census office within the North Dakota State Department of Commerce, told the Tribune last week.

Iverson said his office was working with federal and state officials to spread awareness about the 2020 United States Census, which will begin sending invitations to homes all over the country next week.

If the 2010 federal census was any indication, Pierce County may take the high response title in North Dakota again.

“In 2010, Pierce County had an 87 percent response rate,” Iverson said. “Barnes, Burleigh and Starke Counties tied for second place at 84 percent. So, you guys beat everybody.”

“The response rate statewide for North Dakota was 74 percent,” Iverson noted.

“The lowest response rate was Mountrail at 50 percent. So, you have a number of counties that were below 60 percent. Sixteen counties had a below 60 percent response rate,” Iverson added.

Iverson said the census forms sent to households for 2020 would be brief.

“There are only nine questions per person,” Iverson explained. “It’s your name; your age, your sex, your race or ethnicity, your relationship to the head of household it’s very few questions that are actually asked. It’s just basically questions that are asked about you. There’s nothing about what you do for a living or your income or work or education level. I think it asks you if you’re married and what your relationship to the householder is, and that’s about it. It’s very few questions per person.”

According to the official United States Census website 2020census.gov, all homes in the United States should receive a census questionnaire by April 1. Responses may be given online, by phone or by mail.

Iverson said there are several reasons responding to the census is critical.

“First of all,” Iverson said, “The constitutional reason why the census exists is for the apportionment of the House of Representatives. That doesn’t have a big impact in North Dakota because there’s little chance we’ll get a second seat.”

Iverson said another reason to respond affects North Dakotans more directly.

“The second reason is for the distribution of federal funds,” Iverson said. “There are 316 federal programs that George Washington University cites as tracked to how the distribution of funds works,” Iverson noted. “In 2015, just for the top 16 programs in North Dakota, it equaled $1,910 dollars for that year. One of the things they didn’t highlight in that report is we live with this data for a 10 year period of time, so I multiply that times ten because everything, all future population estimates start out with the assumption that the census is absolutely correct. So, if we miss that for any reason, if we don’t count an individual, it’s nearly a $20,000 hit.”

Iverson said federal funds for Pierce County and other communities are “spread out over a whole series of programs Medicare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, road construction and other things that affect your community the sewer, the water, the salary and programs for your teachers, the airport you name it. It has a small, incremental impact on all of those so it’s hugely important that we count every individual.”

“No community will get hurt in itself by an undercount the next day after the decennial census is released,” Iverson noted. “It’s all those little things that you’re just one little bit less competitive with the next town over that got their data 100 percent correct. And you’ll never know. It’s like not taking your blood pressure; you’ll never know unless you took it.”

Iverson said census workers take an oath of secrecy to protect answers to the census. Data for each census is not released for 72 years, and data for the census is never sold or shared with anyone.

Iverson said responding to the census is critical for everybody in every household.

“When I say ‘everybody,’ it includes those children under five, which for whatever reason, often get missed,” Iverson said. “Even if they’re separated (from their parents), or living at their grandparents’ homes or if your sister-in-law is living at your house – there’s a tendency to forget those people. And those are populations we also need to make sure we capture.”

“We count every individual regardless of citizenship,” Iverson said. “A lot of people think, ‘Well, I’m not a citizen of the United States, so I don’t need to be counted.’ We’ve counted every person in this country, regardless of citizenship, since 1790.”

“So, it’s important if someone’s not a citizen, they’re still counted,” he added. “Even in Washington D.C., they include diplomatic staff from other countries in the census. That’s no change. That’s been going on for a long time now.”

Iverson said census workers would also make sure to count people living in more isolated rural communities and Native American reservations.

Although workers will be kept busy in the next few months, Iverson said the North Dakota Association of Counties and the North Dakota League of Cities will keep things fun by engaging communities in census responses.

“The Association of Counties is going to run a daily map on their website to show how the counties (of North Dakota) are performing. They’re going to get the information off the census bureau’s response map and post it,” Iverson said.

“The League of Cities is also running a couple of contest brackets, called Census Craziness, on the order of March Madness to show which city gets the highest (response rate). Rugby did really well in 2010. They were only beat by Casselton,” Iverson noted.

“So, it’s something the city might be interested in,” Iverson added. “Data will begin to be posted on March 12, but it is a contest and there is a prize for the winning city.”

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