Why the census is key to our future

By Dustin Hillis
Atlanta City Council member

The census is an important marker of where we can go as a community. It’s more than just a simple headcount. There’s a lot more at stake and it’s important to remember that your response really does matter.

In Atlanta, we’re trying hard to invest wisely and appropriately for the future. The census count will determine a lot about how those investments are made. The census count is also tied to how much federal funding we receive for projects, making it even more imperative that the final number is accurate. The census determines more than $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year for programs that have a wide-ranging impact.

Unfortunately, Georgians have historically been under-counted partly because our state is home to large numbers of historically harder to count people. Hard-to-count populations are those for whom a real or perceived barrier exists to full and representative inclusion in the data collection process. Many of those living in these hard-to-count areas are individuals of color, immigrants and non-English speakers, rural families, and families living in poverty. An estimated 22 percent of the state’s population — or 2.2 million Georgians — live in hard-to-count areas. In 2010, we ranked 31st in response rate as a state.

In 2020, we must do better because the census will truly provide a snapshot of the future.

In addition to determining federal funding, it shapes how Congressional seats are apportioned, meaning it will directly impact what kind of representation you receive in our nation’s capital. Census data is also used by lawmakers to draw congressional district boundaries within states, along with other long-term decisions. For instance, lawmakers rely on census demographic projections to determine items such as the country’s Social Security needs. The census gives them a greater sense about the population’s future. If the current population data is inaccurate, future projections could be off, creating financial challenges.

The census also underpins how boundaries are shaped for local governing bodies like our city council and school boards. Governments also rely on this data to determine construction needs for roads, as well as where new hospitals and schools will be located.

It’s clear our area has a fast-growing population. In fact, the metro Atlanta area had the nation’s fourth highest population growth from 2017 to 2018, according to data from the Census Bureau. The region’s growth from 2010 to 2018 was the fourth highest in the nation with 663,201 people being added to the population. Given our population growth, it makes it particularly vital that everyone is counted.

The census can also play a role in how businesses operate as the country’s population changes, impacting where new stores are opened and consequently where there is job growth. If there’s a low response rate, it could undermine the validity of how things are planned across the board.

The census will play a huge role in our community. Make sure you’re counted by filling out your census form. Learn more about the census by visiting the U.S. Census Bureau’s website here.

Information from the Atlanta City Council