This year is a big year for the USA. What happens in 2020 will shape the course of the country for years to come with far-reaching political and economic effects. Of course, I am talking about the decennial census which is being held this year. Although the official “Census Day” (I wonder if they make Hallmark cards for Census Day? They practically write themselves: “I count you as a valued fellow American” and “I’m thinking about your race, sex and age this Census Day”) is not until 1 April (not an auspicious date, I would have thought) but the census is already underway.
As this USA Today primer article notes, the counting began on 21 January amongst remote Alaskan communities. In a couple of weeks’ time the vast majority of the American population will start receiving information about how to fill out the Census (including how to fill it out online). Then from early April the information will start to be collected and people will start to be chased up by Census workers before the very last day that people have to respond: July 31.
The Census is mandated in the Constitution and people living in the USA are required to respond under Federal Law. The information collected (about the number of people living in a household and the race, sex and age of each member of the household) is confidential but is extremely important. It helps the government determine the how $860 billion of federal funding for school, health systems and infrastructure should be distributed.
Politically, the census is important for determining how many representatives each state in the Union is entitled to. Thus, as states grow or decline as a proportion of the nation’s population (as determined by the Census) the number of representatives each state sends to the House of Representatives change. Not only is this important for the make-up of the House, but this also affects Presidential elections, since the number of Electoral College votes each state gets is equal to its representation in Congress (the number of House Representatives and two for each state’s Senators).
Since the effect of the 2020 Census on the House representative numbers will not be announced until early 2021, the 2020 presidential election will be the last to use the Electoral College figures arising from the 2010 Census. The 2022 mid-term elections will be the first to use the redrawn congressional districts. The 2020 Census will determine the Electoral College map for the 2024 and 2028 elections. The supposition is that states in the Midwest and Northeast will lose House seats to States in the South and West. But let us not be too impatient in anticipating the Census results. We still have to get through Census Day yet. So go out and buy those Hallmark Census Day cards and tell your loved ones that “They can count on you, on Census Day”.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet’s blog on population issues.