Examining the importance of a complete census count in 2020


Courtesy to GVSU

Lauren Formosa, Staff Reporter

Students might have learned about the census in a government class or heard it mentioned briefly in a passing conversation, but how much do they truly know about it and what it means for their community? With the 2020 census count coming to a close in the Grand Rapids area, it’s now more important than ever to understand the significance of a complete census count.

The United States census occurs every ten years and counts the population of all 50 states and five territories in the U.S. The census is clearly mandated in the Constitution, making the 2020 census the 24th one to occur in the country’s history. However, it does not just serve to count the number of people in a state or city; the census determines the amount of federal funding and political representation each community will receive for the next decade.

“Our community receives billions of dollars for vital services including education, healthcare, nutrition, and transportation based on the census count,” said Lou Canfield, Grand Rapids Complete Count Committee liaison. “The city can expect more than $3.5 million for community services, full representation during the redistricting process, and an accurate reading of the Grand Rapids community if everyone plays their part in completing the census.”

The city still has not received accurate census data since many people have not filled out and completed their census form. The Complete Count Committee estimates that around 26,000 people in Grand Rapids have not participated in the census.

“Census data helps to determine how federal funds are distributed to state and local governments,” said Melissa Baker-Boosamra, Associate Director of Student Life and head of GVSU’s Community Service Learning Center (CSLC). “It’s important to understand that the census impacts not only the community but also the individuals who are part of those communities.” 

Without full participation from the Grand Rapids community, nearly $300 million in federal funding could be lost over the next ten years, which would’ve been allocated to programs such Medicare and Pell Grants, as well as schools, roads, hospitals and other public services.

“It probably feels like an afterthought or just one more thing to do,” Baker-Boosamra said. “But the real-life impacts on individuals and communities will be felt for the next ten years.”

College students, in particular, run the risk of being undercounted in this year’s census.

“They may assume a parent is including them in their census response, even as their parent thinks the student is handling it on their own,” said Canfield.

In addition, many students who moved back home as a result of COVID-19 might not know where they should be counted.  

GVSU students should be filling out a census form if they are living in on-campus dorms or near campus in off-campus apartments. That way, they will be counted as a part of the community they will be living in for the next few years of their college education. It’s also one of the easiest ways students can make their voices heard and perform their civic duty for their community.  

The deadline for the 2020 census was pushed back to Sept. 30th as a result of COVID-19, so there is still time to complete and submit a census form.

“You can do it online,” Canfield said. “With just nine questions per person, it will take about 10 minutes to complete. You won’t have to do any research – the questions are simple and you’ll know the answers off the top of your head.”

For Baker-Boosamra, this is an all-hands-on-deck effort that will only benefit communities.

“Stone soup is an analogy that I often use; everyone’s got to put in their carrot or their potato, everyone’s got to chip into the pot so that we can all benefit from that soup,” said Baker-Boosamra. “I think that the census is one way of throwing in your carrot or your potato to say, ‘I will be counted,’ and as a result of being counted, our community will benefit.”

To learn more about the 2020 census and how you can participate, visit becountedgr.org or gvsu.edu/service/gvsucounts. To fill out a census form, go to my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020.