Most southcentral Kentucky residents won’t even notice, but the first field operation for a head count with important implications for the region began this month.
The U.S. Census Bureau has started the address canvassing phase of the 2020 census, but it is doing so with fewer workers than were required for the 2010 canvassing.
In a teleconference Monday, Census Bureau officials said technology has helped reduce the need for staffers to go door to door to improve and refine the bureau’s address list of households.
Census Bureau Geography Division Chief Deirdre Bishop said new software and satellite imaging are making the bureau’s job easier this time.
“We were able to verify 65 percent of addresses using satellite imagery,” Bishop said. “In 2010, we had to hire 150,000 people to verify 100 percent of the addresses in the field. This decade, we will only have to hire about 40,000 people around the nation to verify the remaining 35 percent of addresses.”
Census Bureau employees have started walking through neighborhoods across the country to check addresses not verified through the satellite imaging process. This will continue through mid-October, but the head of the Bowling Green-Warren County Complete Count Committee said the census workers will be unobtrusive.
“Most of the time, you won’t even know it’s going on,” said Sue Parrigin, the Bowling Green city commissioner who was appointed chairwoman of the committee.
The work of these part-time Census Bureau employees might be easily overlooked, but Parrigin said they are doing important work.
Because Bowling Green is home to Western Kentucky University and a sizable population of immigrants and refugees, Parrigin said it’s important that census workers educate people and put them at ease.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration hadn’t provided a valid reason for including a citizenship question on the 2020 census form, but Parrigin said it’s still important to reassure the city’s international residents.
“Whether they’re here legally or illegally, they’re still here,” Parrigin said. “We’re finding key people that they trust to try to get the word out.”
Crystal Boyett, the Census Bureau’s partnership specialist for much of western Kentucky, said in a meeting earlier this year: “The census doesn’t just count citizens; it counts the population. We need a trusted voice to work with the refugee population and let them know the census is important. We want to make sure they’re counted.”
Likewise, Parrigin wants to ensure that WKU’s full-time students are counted.
“Most students don’t realize that they’re counted for census purposes where they live six months out of the year,” she said. “We’re really focusing on getting the word out to key people who can communicate with these students.”
Parrigin said getting an accurate count of the population is important for many reasons.
Data from the census conducted every 10 years is used to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress and how more than $675 billion in federal funds are distributed back to states and local communities every year for services and infrastructure.
Boyett said the cost of an incomplete count is estimated at nearly $1,000 per person annually, a figure that Parrigin said can grow over the years.
“Missing one person can mean missing out on $10,000 in federal funding over 10 years,” she said. “Our goal is to count every single person in our city and county.”
Parrigin said the census also represents an opportunity for Bowling Green and Warren County to reach some goals that could raise the region’s profile.
Bowling Green had a population of 58,067 in the 2010 census and was Kentucky’s third-largest city. Because of its rapid growth in recent years, Parrigin thinks the city can reach a population of 70,000 in 2020.
A 2018 census estimate showed Warren County could reach a milestone as well. With an estimated population of 131,264 on July 1, 2018, Warren County was the fifth-largest county in the state but trailed Boone County by only 269 residents.
“We have a strong chance of becoming the fourth-largest county in the state,” Parrigin said. “It’s a pride thing, and it should also help with funding.”
Parrigin said the Census Bureau continues to look for qualified people to fill its many part-time positions. Interested people can apply on the census.gov website.
The 2020 census officially starts counting people in January in remote Toksook Bay, Alaska. Most households in the country will start receiving invitations to respond online, by phone or by mail in March.