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Census 2020 officials focus on full Native American count

Indian Country has much to gain, and potentially lose, when Census 2020 arrives next year.

As a result, officials are spreading the word now about how the count – which takes place every 10 years – is important to tribes.

Native Americans and Alaska Native populations were undercounted by 4.9 percent in the last Census in 2010.

Part of the reason for the undercount is the estimate that 26 percent of the Native population lives in hard-to-count Census tracts.

The figure fluctuates depending on whether someone lives on or off a reservation, but it is more than double the next closest population group.

“We have been working closely with tribal governments for years on the best way to accomplish our goal of counting everyone in the 2020 Census,” Dee Alexander, tribal affairs coordinator for the Census Bureau, recently said in a statement.

Another reason officials cite for the undercount in Indian Country is a general distrust of the U.S. government.

One hope to combat the distrust is the hiring of Census workers who canvass in the communities where they live.

The Bureau is offering competitive pay and flexible schedules to help accomplish that goal.

Why it matters

An accurate count is critical because Census Bureau population statistics are used to decide how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated for public services like health care clinics, schools, roads and bridges.

About $800 billion will be allocated across the country for 2020, including $45 billion in Florida alone.

The Census also determines how many seats each state gets in Congress and in state legislative districts.

Florida gained two House seats after the 2010 Census and could add up to two more seats this time around.

Further, companies rely on Census date to decide whether to locate or expand in a particular region and where they will have the best chance for a high return on their investment.

Philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, also use the data to assess community needs and make charitable investments.

2020 challenges

While the Census has never been immune to politics, it has been particularly political this time around.

The Trump Administration made an attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, sparking heavy public and political backlash and a battle in the courts.

The addition of a citizenship question was ultimately rejected by the courts, but Census watchers say damage was already done.

For example, some Latinos and immigrants have been scared off by the mere suggestion of the question, and experts are expecting an undercount as a result.

The politics have exacerbated the already ongoing distrust among some groups concerning the federal government.

The truth is that the Census only records how many people live at a given residence as of April 2020 – Census Day. It asks for basic information like age, race and sex.

Census responses are also confidential and protected by law. The Bureau does not share information with law enforcement agencies or immigration officials.

How it works

Most households will receive a notification in mid-March 2020.

The short questionnaire can be completed online, by phone or by mail. This Census marks the first time participants are able to respond online.

Census Bureau tribal specialists said that those who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native should mark the American Indian or Alaska Native checkbox and then enter the name of their enrolled or principal tribe(s) in the write-in area.

Individuals will be able to report multiple races and/or tribes as well.

Higher self-response rates increase accuracy and save taxpayer money by lowering the follow-up costs for non-responding households.

Participating in the Census is required by law, even if you recently completed another survey from the Census Bureau.

Important dates

• April 1, 2020: Census Day
• May 2020: Bureau begins visiting homes that haven’t responded.
• Dec. 2020: Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the President and Congress.
• March 31, 2021: By this date, the Bureau will send redistricting counts to states.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at