Why is it important to fill out your Census?

A UAB expert explains the importance of filling out the 2020 Census and how the lack of participation can hinder the state of Alabama.

Environmental head shot of Dr. Peter Jones, PhD (Assistant Professor, Government), 2018.Peter Jones, Ph.D.The 2020 Census deadline is rapidly approaching, and the state of Alabama is in last place on filling out its forms.

Census data is used to allocate the 435 congressional seats, and Alabama is at risk of losing one of its seven congressional districts if residents do not comply. Alabama’s Census count will help determine the state’s share of federal aid, and those federal dollars are crucial to the economic health of Alabama.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Peter Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Political Science and Public Administration says more than one-third of Alabama’s state budget is funded with transfers from the federal government.

“In 2017, Alabama received over $10 billion in federal aid,” Jones said. “Alabama is also one of the most federally dependent states, meaning Alabamians pay far less in federal taxes per capita than they receive in federal aid per capita.”

The goal is always to count everyone, but time and cost constrain how many follow-ups the Census can do.

Jones says, if Alabama does not have a good response rate, then it will likely be undercounted, which means it will likely lose a seat in Congress and might lose federal funding.

“In the recent Census counts, Black and Hispanic residents were especially susceptible to being undercounted, so an undercount may undermine efforts to address racial injustices as well,” Jones said.

All of this data helps us better understand policy problems and craft solutions. Even at the local level, government and nonprofits use Census data to understand the scope and severity of public problems like poverty, the housing crisis, etc. Businesses use Census data to understand the public’s consumption habits.

Across the nation, the Census illuminates the changing nature of our populace and which states are declining or increasing in population. Migration patterns are informative as we deal with infrastructure or understand social problems.

“We only have a couple of weeks left, so aside from getting everyone to spread the word, it’s going to be tough,” Jones said. “We should encourage people to respond to Census takers, even if they have already submitted their form, and normalize the discussion of filling out the Census.

“Ask everyone you know if they have done it. If they have not, then help them do it. Students should be checking in on older family members and helping them fill it out online.”

For more information on how you can fill out your Census, visit www.uab.edu/uabcounts.