The upcoming census is important for more than just the bragging rights that Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the Union. Millions of dollars ride on the outcome.
An uncounted Idahoan in the 2020 Census could cost the state between $1,200 and $1,500 per year in foregone federal funding, or $12,000 to $15,000 during the 10-year period until the next census, according to Chad Houck, deputy secretary of state.
Consequently, it behooves Idaho to count its residents as accurately as it can in the upcoming census, which starts on April 1.
“The accuracy of the count boils down to how much funding is available to fix potholes and roads,” Houck said.
In the 2010 Census, Kootenai County might have had a shortfall of as many as 31,500 people, adding up to around $46 million, said David Callahan, director of Kootenai County community development in Coeur d’Alene.
The census numbers are also used for economic forecasting. Trade associations, chambers of commerce and businesses rely on them to make investment and policy decisions. Public health officials use them to target responses to diseases and other health concerns, Callahan said.
The census also determines the number of congressional representatives for each state. It’s not out of the question that Idaho could get a third House member, though it’s unlikely, Houck said. Idaho would need a population of 2 million to 2.1 million to make that happen.
Other states are closer to gaining a congressional district. Oregon believes it was undercounted in 2010 by 200,000 people, which could have cost it a congressional seat, said former Rep. Wendy Jaquet, a Democrat from Ketchum.
States such as California have the incentive to get an accurate count to maintain the congressional representation they have, Houck said.
Like most states, Idaho has formed a committee to help ensure that hard-to-count and hard-to-find populations are accurately counted.
Gov. Brad Little appointed Jaquet and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney as co-chairs of the Idaho Census Complete Count Committee, with more than 20 members from government and nonprofits.
“This is the first census where electronic data collection will be used,” said Greg Hill, director of the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University. “The U.S. Census Bureau will mail a postcard to every home with a unique web code so each household can fill the census out online this year. If a household decides not to fill it out online, they will be sent a paper version. If they don’t fill that out, a Census Bureau representative will come to the home and help the household fill it out.”
The reduction in “door-knocking” will save time and money, Houck said.
The online requirement will be a challenge to Idahoans without computers or internet access. Idaho may involve libraries or partner with organizations to take computers door to door, Jaquet said.
Committee representatives outside the Treasure Valley are also eager to ensure that the count in their regions is accurate.
Blaine, Nez Perce, Bannock, Owyhee, Fremont and Benewah counties presented challenges during the 2010 Census because of low response rates, according to “Census 2020 Hard to Count” by the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.
“For a small county like ours, it is very important,” said Lon Colton, the clerk in Oneida County in southeast Idaho.
The county has a small tax base, Colton said, and an accurate census count will “bring in the revenue to help cover the cost of state mandates.”