Understand: U.S. Census

Demographer explains importance of census

KSAT News at 9 reporter Sarah Acosta wanted to learn more about why the census survey is so important.

SAN ANTONIO – By now, you've probably heard about the debate over adding the citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census.

The Supreme Court has ruled against the question being added to the census, but the Trump administration is still pushing for it.

While that plays out in the courts, KSAT News at 9 reporter Sarah Acosta wanted to learn more about why the census survey is so important.

Lloyd Potter, Texas demographer, said the census is so important the founding fathers put it in the Constitution in 1790, requiring that the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct a survey every 10 years.

The census determines the number of House representatives for each state and how much federal money is distributed to each state.

“The census becomes really the statistical foundation for the coming decade of the population,” Potter said.

The survey is a short form. It asks for age, sex, race, ethnicity, home ownership and relationship.

Potter said it's part of our civic duty to participate, and it's required by law to fill it out.

“The Census Bureau is very quick to point out they've never prosecuted anybody for refusing to participate in the census,” Potter said.

Potter said it is important to participate because the federal money that each state gets depends on those that are counted.

“For every person that we undercount, Texas is going to lose about $1,000,” Potter said. “If we undercounted a million people, that's a lot of money that Texas isn't going to get.”

In 2020, residents should anticipate getting a form in the mail. Potter said the form will have a code on it for people to use to take the online survey.

The 2020 Census can also be done over the phone or in person if people don't have access to a computer.

But if someone with the Census Bureau comes to your door and you refuse to respond, what happens?

Like Potter said, the bureau has never prosecuted anyone for refusing to participate. He said the census workers will most likely take an estimate of how many people live in the home or ask neighbors about the household.

About the Authors:

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.