Weekly Columns

A lot can change in ten years. In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, I didn’t have grandkids and the population of Arkansas was less than three million. Now, tablets are as important as pencils and I have four grandchildren who are part of an estimated 100,000 additional people in Arkansas. 

Recognizing and analyzing these trends is critical as our state plans for the future. When you think about paving roads, building schools and having enough hospitals, it is important to keep that degree of population growth – and potential future additions – in mind.   

Although they could not have imagined the growth of America over the last 244 years, our Founding Fathers did understand the importance of counting our people to make sure we are properly represented in Congress. The U.S. Census occurs every ten years and is mandated by our Constitution. In addition to determining the distribution of billions of federal dollars, it impacts how lines are drawn for congressional districts and the number of U.S. Representatives serving each state.  

Since the first census in 1790, a lot has changed in how we collect data and what information is sought. There are several new things about the 2020 Census, including the role of technology. For the first time, many Americans will submit their information online. For Arkansans who do not have access to a computer or simply prefer to use paper forms, we all still have the option of completing our civic duty on paper, over the phone or in person with a Census official. However, for those who hope to get it done faster, the online option will be the easiest. In fact, households that reply online after receiving the first notices in March won’t have to worry about additional mail, calls or visits by Census employees. 

The importance of getting an accurate count is reflected in the work of statewide initiatives like Arkansas Counts and the creation of the Arkansas Complete Count Committee. Governor Hutchinson launched this committee last summer to promote participation and provide suggestions on how to reach hard-to-count communities.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 15 percent of Arkansans are considered hard-to-count. The agency says some of the difficult-to-count populations include low-income individuals, non-English speakers and minorities. That makes the work of the committee so crucial. I am grateful for the hard work of this committee, under the leadership of Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. 

In 2010, Arkansas ranked 38th in Census participation. This means we left billions of dollars on the table that  could have been used for critical projects like highway construction, rural broadband and water systems. It is important that we all do our part this year to make sure our fair share of funding stays in the Natural State. 

The initial letters from the Census Bureau will start arriving in March 2020, with the entire process completed by fall. It is time for us all to be counted, including my grandchildren.