The 2020 U.S. Census is just around the corner and it would be hard to overstate the importance of counting every head, especially in a county like Wilkes with essentially no population growth since the 2010 Census.

The objective is to count the entire population, and at the location where each person usually lives.

The census asks questions of people in homes and group living situations, including how many people live or stay in each home, and the sex, age and race of each person. The goal is to count everyone once, and in the right place.

Ideally, the resulting accurate information becomes the basis for decisions resulting in the best use of both public and private resources.

The federal government uses population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors obtained through the census to determine how to divide hundreds of billions of dollars among state, county and municipal governments. This is money spent on education, healthcare, transportation, public works and other vital programs.

Businesses use census data to decide where to build factories, offices and stores, and this creates jobs. Developers use the census to decide where to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods. Local governments use the census for public safety, emergency preparedness and other important services.

Groups from all parts of society use census information to decide where to direct attention and resources on initiatives involving certain businesses, civil rights outreach, consumer advocacy, community engagement and more. For instance, a group advocating for ballots and voter information to be printed in languages other than English may use census data to locate populations likely to primarily speak a non-English language.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution chose population as the basis for sharing political power instead of wealth or land. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers…”

Census results dictate representation in the U.S. House. North Carolina picked up a 13th U.S. congressional seat after the 2000 census – outpacing Utah by fewer than 1,000 people – and continued population growth in North Carolina could bring a 14th seat after next year’s census.

Over the past decades, congressional seats have mostly been lost in the Northeast and Midwest and reapportioned to the South and West of the U.S. This trend is expected to continue as the population is projected to steadily increase in the South and West.

Within states, congressional and state legislature districts are redrawn based on census data. Based on population distribution changes within states, the boundaries must shift every 10 years to ensure each district has roughly the same population.

Later this spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a citizenship question added by President Donald Trump’s administration should remain on census forms. Some federal judges blocked the addition of this question, saying it could lead to an undercount by causing some people to skip the whole census process if they’re afraid of disclosing whether they are U.S. citizens.

A commission in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration is working on a grassroots effort to reach as many people as possible to be included in the 2020 Census through nonprofits, faith-based groups, the military, health care and education groups and community organizations.

North Carolina’s population grew by at least 12 percent each decade from the 1930s to the beginning of the 21st century, and it jumped by 18.5 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

The state has grown by only 8.9 percent since 2010, and if the trend holds for the next two years, the current decade would be the slowest population increase for North Carolina in more than a century.

Similarly, this decade will be the first in this or the prior century in which Wilkes County’s population failed to grow if a drastic change doesn’t occur.

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