You might have heard the saying, “A healthy agriculture is dependent on a healthy local community and vice versa.” One ingredient in assessing the health of a community is an accurate picture of its situation. The U.S. Census has been important since 1790, and the upcoming 2020 Census will be crucial to Mississippi.
The major uses of the decennial (once every 10 years) Census are for:
In 2003, Mississippi’s number of representatives decreased based on population counts in the 2000 Census. Although another seat loss is not estimated, undercounts on top of our stagnant population gains would further risk our representation in the U.S. House. Mississippi receives over $2 for every $1 we pay in federal taxes. Focusing on the 55 federal programs with the greatest spending determined by Census data, researchers at George Washington University estimated that Mississippi received more than $10.1 billion in fiscal year 2016. This was directly influenced by data collected from the Census and the American Community Survey, which uses the decennial Census as the base.
We hope you are starting to get a picture of the importance of you, your family and your neighbors being active participants in the 2020 Census. Postcard mailouts will begin in March, and official Census Day is April 1.
Some concerns for full participation in Mississippi are online access and hard-to-count/expected low response areas. The 2020 Census is the first census where online access will be available and encouraged. Because many rural areas in Mississippi have limited broadband internet access, this could present a challenge.
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In addition, Mississippi has many areas where people are considered hard to count and are expected to have limited self-responses to the 2020 Census. Issues of concern include poverty, isolation and the difficulties of counting young children. These factors are especially relevant to Mississippi and require extra efforts.
We also emphasize that people can form or join Complete Count Committees, which promote an accurate count of the population in their communities. For example, participants might coordinate Census promotion campaigns within churches, or develop community celebrations that feature the civic duty of Census participation.
The 2020 Census will be important for all Americans, but for those who live, work and care about rural communities and small towns, it will be critically important. We hope our fellow Mississippians can work together to make sure that our people are accurately counted so their lives and voices can be valued and heard.
About the Authors
Steve Turner is Director of the Southern Rural Development Center at MSU and John Green is Director of the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi.