By Wendy Underhill
Every Alabamian matters. How, then, can the Yellowhammer State make sure every Alabamian is counted in next year’s U.S. census?
Two years ago, Governor Kay Ivey (R) hired Kenneth Boswell to tackle that challenge as part of his job as director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. In his role at the agency, Boswell heads the Alabama Counts 2020 Census Committee. A decade earlier Boswell ran an insurance business and then served as mayor of a small town.
He was told that his town was losing retailers because it was losing population—even though he could see new developments popping up on the edges of town.
When it was time for the 2010 census, he said he “gave speeches, talked on the radio, talked on TV, and talked everywhere they’d listen about the census and what it could do for the community if it could get more people counted.” It worked. Numbers went up, he says, and retailers followed. This was in the aptly-named town of Enterprise, Ala.
What was true for his town is true for the state: You’ve got to be counted. “It impacts, first and foremost, approximately $1,600 per person in the state of Alabama,” Boswell says. “That is used for such things as education, hospitals, rural development and community programs.”
He waits a beat, then adds, “and there’s the possibility of Alabama losing a Congressional seat.”
Alabama’s population is growing, but not at the same rate as many other states. Since Congressional seats are distributed by a population-based formula, Alabama, and a small handful of other states, are potentially going to give up a seat.
While preparations have been underway for more than a year, Thursday was the date of the big “reveal” for the logo and website for Alabama Counts.
The legislature has been “very interested” in Alabama Counts’ work, says Representative David Standridge (R), chair of the Alabama House Rural Caucus. He says an accurate count is important because “it concerns the amount of federal funds to be given to the state—especially the funds that will be going to the local and rural areas.”
In Alabama, rural residents are a “hard-to-count” population, a descriptor used in the census world to refer to groups who are less likely to respond to the census without a personal nudge.
The legislature isn’t just paying lip service to census outreach. It appropriated $240,000 last year, with another $240,000 this year pending. The total, $480,000, would be 10 cents per Alabamian.
Now the goal is to get the word out that getting the count up is important. While media and social media campaigns are essential, most people will form their impressions about the census based on what they hear from “people they trust, people they know aren’t going to give them a story,” Boswell says.
That means Alabama Counts’ mission is to be sure that community leaders throughout the state, especially if they are in faith-based or community-based organizations, have solid information to share. And from there, it’s about all Alabamians pulling together.
For more information on state actions on the census, see NCSL’s 2020 Census Resources and Legislation.
Also, view NCSL’s brand-new Census Talking Points for Legislations and Others.
Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of elections and redistricting.