How does Denver ensure a complete and accurate count of its population during the 2020 census?
During the census campaign in 2010, upwards of 25% of Denver residents didn’t respond on their own. Instead, census volunteers had to reach out to those residents by phone or in-person to count them, said Kaye Kavanagh, the city's census coordinator.
Looking forward to 2020, Kavanagh said the Colorado Fiscal Institute anticipates 176,151 Denver residents will not self-respond to the census.
“We have our work cut out for us in 2020 as we have some added barriers with increased distrust,” Kavanagh said.
The census has become a politically contentious topic of late following President Donald Trump’s attempt to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against the White House’s efforts, blocking the question from the census. Opponents argued the question would have discouraged participation, especially by immigrants.
The census is a constitutionally-mandated tally of the population of the country conducted every 10 years, said Lily Romero Griego, a partnership coordinator with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The numbers it gathers are used to help draw congressional and state legislature district maps and voting precincts, and to determin how many members of Congress each state gets.
Colorado is projected to gain an eighth congressional seat following the 2020 census because of its rapid population growth, Kavanagh said. Florida is expected to gain another two seats, and Texas three seats.
The data also are used to distribute federal dollars to the states.
"We distribute $675 billion annually to the states based off of census data,” Griego said.
Of that amount, Colorado receives about $13 billion annually, which helps fund services like Medicare and Medicaid, public libraries, road improvements, Section 8 affordable housing for seniors, nutritional and food-stamp programs and veteran services, among others, said Natriece Bryant, deputy executive director with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Bryant also serves as the state chair for the Colorado Complete Count Campaign, a volunteer effort to increase public awareness of the upcoming census.
State, local, and tribal municipalities also use census data to make informed decisions on services and improvements, Griego told Denver City Council members at a recent census briefing.
“As city councilors, you deal frequently with zoning issues, planning issues, development issues, infill issues -- all of these equate back to census data,” she said.
In 2020, much of the census team’s outreach will focus on so-called “hard to count” populations which include youth, minority groups, the homeless, the LGBTQ community and low-income people, among other populations.
“In communities of color, there is a mistrust in government, and we recognize that, and we have those tough conversations early on so we can break through some of those silos that we may have created unintentionally,” Bryant said.
Shifting to immigrant and refugee populations, Bryant said, “We talk to them about why the census is so important. We don’t care about if you’re documented [or] undocumented; you are here in Colorado and you matter, so we want to make sure you count.”
“Our push is that it’s important, easy and it’s safe,” Bryant said of the 2020 census.
For the first time, the 2020 census will utilize the internet to reach out to the population. Residents can also go with the typical paper, telephone or in-person avenue to provide their information.
In Colorado, the census will be available in 13 languages. In Denver, Griego said that Spanish, Vietnamese and two dialects of Chinese are among the more ubiquitous languages other than English.
Griego heads the Denver region team, which will focus on Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. In the ramp-up to the count, Griego said the team is focused on, among other things, hiring volunteers, reaching out to communities to build trust and beginning to address canvass.
Griego’s team will canvass different community organizations to speak and build trust and encourage participation. Griego noted the team will use what they termed a Type of Enumeration Area (TEA) map, which, based on a long list of factors, identifies which Denver neighborhoods or regions should be the focus of outreach.
The census team will especially focus on Denver’s American Indian and immigrant and refugee populations to educate them on the importance of participation in the census.
In Denver, Kavanagh said the city has formed its own Complete Count Committee, with 13 sub-committees focused on specific constituencies. Additionally, the city will perform outreach at community events and public meetings and buy advertisements targeted at specific communities.
Kavanagh added while the added availability of the census online may make it an easier process for some, it can seem intimidating to others.
The Census Bureau will begin the count in spring 2020. April 1 is designated as Census Day.