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U.S. Census, State Preparing for 2020 Count
Post Date: Nov 06 2017

By The Bismarck Tribune
The U.S. Census Bureau will start its decennial count in 2½ years, and North Dakota officials are encouraging communities to sign up for a federal program that will help create an accurate picture of who lives where.

But some are concerned rural and tribal populations will not get the recognition they deserve.

“I was going through the data on Census 2010, and more rural areas have had a lower response rate to the census,” said Kevin Iverson, Census Office manager and procurement manager for the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

North Dakota counties, cities, townships and tribes have been sent letters asking them to participate in the Local Update of Census Addresses, a federal program that allows local governments to share updated address lists with the Census Bureau.

It’s a voluntary program, but it helps the Census Bureau get a clearer view of where people live so the agency can get an accurate count, Iverson said. The deadline to sign up for LUCA is Dec. 15.

Twenty-one counties, fewer than half of the 53 in North Dakota, signed up for LUCA last year.

Federal and state address lists sometimes have major differences. One map comparing databases from the two shows significant differences in city boundaries, especially in cities in the west and rural areas.

For example, the state’s boundaries for Mandan and Bismarck have holes and gaps that the census doesn’t mark, and some lines recorded by the state extend beyond the census’s boundaries.

Some information may have been communicated to the state but not the Census Bureau, and vice versa, Iverson said.

“This isn’t really anybody’s fault, it just kind of happened over time,” he said. “We’ve been working on this one for quite a while. I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

There is a penalty for missing a significant number of houses during the official census count, Iverson said. That is one reason why he and others are pushing local governments to sign up for LUCA, but there is another reason.

“Nobody knows the local area like the people that are living there,” he said.

Local, state and national leaders from North Dakota, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have expressed concerns about correctly counting rural and tribal populations. She criticized a move in 2016 to cancel a census test on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation due to lack of funding.

“Too often, tribal communities exist in a blind spot for the federal government, and I worry the 2020 Census could be another example,” Heitkamp said in a statement Thursday.

The test also would have been conducted in a Washington state reservation. There are no plans to implement the test.

She also feared a lack of a Senate-confirmed Census director, budget problems and other issues would leave the census “woefully unprepared,” according to her statement. The tests would have helped the Census Bureau improve how it interacts and works with tribal communities, Heitkamp said.

“Instead, they’re being left out again,” she said, adding “that’s unacceptable. Without a clear view and accurate count of rural America and Indian Country, the federal government will not be able to address and alleviate the challenges we face in the heartland.”

Iverson agreed there is a general consensus tribal populations are undercounted, but it’s more about a lack of trust instead of a lack of trying, he said. Some people are cautious about random people who ask for information, he added.

“If someone comes knocking at my door, are they really using this (information) for what they are saying they are using it for, and do I trust this person to give them information?” he asked. “I think overall it has become more difficult because there are so many scams out there. I think that is true not just with American Indians but kind of everybody.”

The test that was canceled for 2017 may have been done during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which attracted thousands of protesters from across the country to a camp near Standing Rock.

“I think logistically, even if it hadn’t been for (lack of) money, it would have been impossible for the Census Bureau to do the lead items that are necessary (for the test),” Iverson said.

Scott Davis, executive director of the state Indian Affairs Commission, shared concerns of tribal populations being undercounted, but he advised communities in tribal nations to participate in LUCA.

“That LUCA system is a process of trying to get a better, more accurate count,” he said in a voicemail.

U.S. Census, State Preparing for 2020 Count - The Bismarck Tribune
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