The U.S. Census Bureau is in the final one-month stretch before ending the 2020 count. Some Memphis-area state lawmakers are worried about a possible undercount that could affect political representation for Shelby County.
Before census workers, going door-to-door this month, helped bring the statewide count close to 80 percent, sixty-four percent of Tennesseans had completed the census either online, over the phone or via the mail.
But so far, Shelby County’s self-response rate is almost two percent lower than it was in 2010, and the City of Memphis lags four percent behind its rate from 10 years ago.
With the Census Bureau wrapping up field operations a month earlier than expected, lawmakers say a shortfall in responses could affect federal funding for social services and public infrastructure. It could also reshape local voting districts.
According to census projections, the state’s population has shifted enough in the last decade to possibly cost Shelby County one of its 14 house seats, says Matia Powell of the nonprofit CivicTN. But, districts aren’t drawn on projections; they’ll be based on the 2020 numbers, which is why she says a precise count guides fair representation.
Memphis Representative Larry Miller says Shelby County’s political power at the state legislature is on the line.
“It just depends on the last 10 years versus now,” he says. “Has our population growth increased or has it decreased, or has it pretty much remained the same? That’s what’s going to determine that.”
Powell points out that it’s not just government officials who rely on the data. It can spur local economic growth.
“Even for-profits and corporations make decisions based on census numbers. So the industries make decisions on where they’re going to grow or where they’re going to build,” she says. “There’s just so many decisions that’s made on it, that it is just imperative that we have the most accurate count.”
The last day to complete the census form is September 30. It can be found online at my2020census.gov.