Stand up and be counted
The census can be a wealth of information that can shed light on communities.
For example, according to the census, there are about 2,800 households in Newton without broadband internet. Just up the interstate in McPherson, the median household value stands at $133,100. In El Dorado, the county seat of Butler County, the average commute time to work is 16 minutes.
This kind of information is available for every city in the state at kansascounts.org. And, there’s a link there to complete the current census.
Therein lies a problem, however. The goal for kansascounts.org is to have everyone counted — and there is a long way to go before the census ends.
“We want every person in the state of Kansas. Our services get fixed when every person (is) counted. We are all driving on roads with potholes, and we want the funding to fix those,” said Wendi Stark, census outreach manager for the Kansas League of Muncipalities.
Currently the response rate for the state of Kansas stands at 67.4%. Stark’s most recent report showed more than 400,000 households that needed to be counted — whether that be by a mail-in form, online, by phone or by census workers stopping at residences.
“The state average is one in three,” Stark said.
And the stakes are huge. Over a 10-year period, census counts can mean more than $760 million in federal funds for the three-county region of Butler, Harvey and McPherson counties.
Butler County stands to see $405 million in funds, Harvey County $193 million and McPherson County $162 million.
Stark said that when PPE was needed to respond to COVID-19, census numbers were consulted to make allocations for states. In Kansas, the allocated PPE was received in May.
“The census benefits every single person every day,” Stark said. “It can be a senior meal plan, it can be emergency services, education, roads or water. Programs that fund those are all based on census numbers. Communities use census numbers to plan.”
One big hurdle just got thrown in the path — an announcement issued this week that the census will stop at the end of September. The original date for completion was Oct. 31.
And while the three counties each rank in the top 10 of the state for responses, the census counts in the region are behind, according to State Complete County Committee member Amber Jackson. And, she said, that could result in a very real financial cost.
“An under count in El Dorado alone means (the area) could miss out on approximately $47,469.60 in federal funding, over 10 years, for each household that is missed in the 2020 census,” Jackson said.
For county seat cities McPherson and Newton the loss of federal funds could be $46,845 and $50,383 per household, respectively.
Currently, Harvey County has a 73.2% response rate, ranked fourth in the state. McPherson County is sitting right behind Harvey — ranked fifth with a 73% response rate. Butler County is at 70.6%, ranked eighth.
Only one city in the three county region ranks among the best in the state — North Newton, with an 83.9% response rate that puts them fourth in the state.
The state ranks 14th in the nation at this time, with a 67% response rate.
The U.S. Census is required by law (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2) and has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. The 2020 census will count every person living in the United States and five U.S. territories.
This year the census has contacted households by mail to give online access for respondents. The state site for the census is located at kansascounts.org.