FRANKFORT – It may seem odd to talk about 2020 with 2019 just now getting underway, but given the importance of next year’s U.S. Census, it is not too soon to begin raising public awareness about something that will have a direct impact on us all for the next decade.
The Census is one of our country’s longest-running programs, having begun just a year after George Washington became president. Much more than a simple population count, it has also documented who we are, where we live and how much we have changed as a nation from one decade to the next.
Kentucky was two years away from becoming a state when the first Census was held, but growing regions like ours were still included. What it found is that, just 15 years after Daniel Boone and others had cleared what became known as the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap, there were already 74,000 soon-to-be Kentuckians.
Our population crossed the one-million mark in 1860 and was triple that by 1960. We exceeded four million by 2000 and hit 4.3 million in 2010. The latest estimate, taken earlier this summer, indicates we will be nearing 4.5 million people when the 2020 numbers are official.
On average, we have about 110 people per square mile, which is 100 times the population density of Alaska, but a tenth of what you’ll find in New Jersey, our most urbanized state.
The Census is important for a variety of reasons. It is used to determine representation in everything from Congress to state and local legislative seats, and Census data also drive nearly $600 billion in federal spending each and every year. We stand to lose more than $2,000 annually for each person not counted.
Governments and businesses alike use Census statistics to determine where to build new roads, utilities and schools; how to better allocate emergency services and safety-net programs; and where to locate new economic development.
The Census is working to make it easier for citizens who fill out its forms. They will be able to return that information online – the first time that’s possible – or by phone or mail, all of which will reduce the number of households visited by the agency.
Census officials emphasize that personal information is kept confidential. In fact, no one – not even the courts or law enforcement – can have access to that individualized data for 72 years.
The Census is also planning to temporarily boost its workforce for next year, so for those interested in joining, you can apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020.
For the General Assembly’s purpose, the 2020 Census data will be used in 2021 to determine the 138 state House and Senate districts for the next decade. We will also draw district lines for our six congressional seats.
While that is still some time away, my colleagues and I are actually set to return to the Capitol early next week, to begin another legislative session. This will last for 30 working days, with most of those taking place in February and March. Since we budget in two-year increments, we likely won’t address many bills that have a significant impact on state spending.
That doesn’t mean the bills we do take up are unimportant. On the contrary, there have been a significant number of major laws adopted in odd-numbered years, from education and criminal justice to public-retirement reforms.
Your contributions to that process are important, so please don’t hesitate to let know your views. My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line for me or any legislator is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.