Posted by on Aug 9, 2010 in Blog Article | No Comments

Over the past few months signs of the 2010 decennial Census have been all around:  forms in our mail, advertisements in the paper, and census takers on our doorstep.   This year’s Census brought about a few changes to the process, the most important being the removal of the long-form in favor of a simpler ten question survey in an attempt to increase participation.  So, although Census 2010 is winding down for the next decade, it will have major ramifications that need to be understood by local governments in order to effectively plan in both the short and long-term. 

The US Census is mandated by the Constitution and was first taken in 1790, reporting a total population of 3.8 million residents.  This first rendition was fairly basic and contained almost no demographic information beyond gender and two age categories (greater or less than 16 years old).  In this early period the Census was used only to determine the apportionment of seats to the House of Representatives and the number of votes in the Electoral College.  Today, however, the census does more than simply count people; it affects how the federal government sets national priorities and funding appropriation levels for a wide variety of public services.

Looking at the eventual results the Census is important, at its most basic level, because local governments need to know how many residents they are serving.  Having an accurate count of a population will allow a city to gauge pressure put on local infrastructure.  A boom in population means a need for increased water capacity; a large segment of children under the age of five could signal more crowded schools in just a few years; and a sharp increase of non-English speakers in the community could require providing different types of services to meet their language demands.  While officials may already have observed all of these changes occurring slowly over the last decade, the Census can give concrete data and figures to back up observational and anecdotal evidence. 

New Census data also means a change in the allocation of federal dollars for local governments.  Money for school districts, hospitals, emergency services, public works spending, and community development block grants are all set for the upcoming decade based on 2010 Census data.  Shifts in population signal shifts in the amount of entitlement funds, for better or worse.  Governments that already are aware of large demographic shifts would be wise to anticipate changes in allocation and not be caught by surprise when the final data is released in July, 2011.

Changing demographics can also mean a shift in access to non-entitlement funding sources, such as grants.  Many grants are only available in areas that meet specific demographic criteria; affordable housing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for example, are only eligible in neighborhoods where a specific percentage of residents are low-to-moderate income (LMI) individuals as defined by the Census.  Shifts in general population numbers, ethnic, gender, and family composition and housing characteristics are all other categories to take note of when looking for new sources for grant funding.

In conclusion, it is important for local governments to use the Census as an effective tool.  By utilizing Census data to understand the community being served, governments can plan for the future, provide better and more effective services, and capitalize on key demographics to acquire federal funding. 

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