Lack of census participation can mean lack of funding

Lack of census participation can mean lack of funding for south KC

By Jill Draper

What would you do with $1,500 for every person in your family? That’s an estimate of how much money the state of Missouri has lost per resident each year for the past decade due to under-participation in the 2010 U.S. census.

The response rate is not looking any better for the 2020 census—at least in the Kansas City metro area—but officials are hoping that door-to-door visits and help from community and faith-based groups will boost the numbers. The deadline is Sept. 30 and everyone is required to take part, including immigrants and other non-citizens.

Census assistance in south KC can be found at public libraries, community centers and Avila University (which offers help in Spanish and Mandarin). Call the site before visiting, since hours may have changed.

Or answer questions online at or by phone at 844-330-2020 or 844-468-2020 (Spanish). The whole process should take no more than 15 minutes.

Counting how many people live in the United States has always been problematic. The requirement to participate in the census is written into the constitution, but founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson complained from the start that people’s fear and negligence caused undercounts.

Census data is crucial because it affects how billions of dollars are portioned out for 132 federal programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, transportation projects, education, childcare and affordable housing. It also affects our representation in Washington, D.C., as well as business development.

“Data drives decision-making,” says Marlene Nagel, director of community development at the Mid-America Regional Council. “Not having good data is harmful to planning work and also discourages companies looking for new locations. If an area shows loss of population, it could prevent investment.”

The latest response map from for Jackson County shows 61.3% of households participating, with lackluster rates in western Grandview and much of Kansas City between I-435 and the Missouri River. Rates are better in neighborhoods near the state line and in the Northland.

“We faced a lot of hurdles this time around,” says Nagel. “COVID and the resulting economic crisis have put other issues in front of people.” She notes the debate over whether to include a citizenship question (which the Supreme Court ultimately blocked) did not help, and likely caused fear and confusion.

Privacy is sometimes a concern, especially among non-citizens, but federal law requires the Census Bureau to keep data strictly confidential and to use the information it collects only to produce statistics.

To support historical research, census records may be released after 72 years.

According to the bureau, children are undercounted more often than adults and this leads to underfunding in education. Shelley Stroh Enright, a teacher with the Grandview School District, points out that funding for Head Start, teacher grants, special education, school breakfast and lunch and Title 1 are all affected by census numbers. “These programs are used to help students who are in the most need,” she says.

Every 10-year survey by the Census Bureau is a challenge, Nagle says. Officials recognize they will not receive a 100% response and employ other data sets to achieve a more accurate picture.

“You could frankly question whether the current administration is going to have an appropriate statistical adjustment this time around” to bring up the numbers, she says. “There’s lots of political noise right now. At this point, nothing surprises me.”


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