Three weeks ago the Associated Press gave readers a nice story about Lizzie Chimiugak.
What made Lizzie special? The 90-year-old resident of a far-flung fishing village in western Alaska became the first person counted in the 2020 census.
Let’s hope the rest of us are so lucky.
The U.S. Census Bureau started with Lizzie and her fellow residents of Alaska’s Tooksok Bay — with Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham personally visiting the community to launch the process — because it is one of the toughest places in America to reach. The bureau explained that the decennial census has begun in Alaska since 1870 because the combination of weather, rugged terrain and sparse population presents challenges census-takers don’t find anywhere else in America.
But the physical barriers are not the only ones that the Census Bureau must clear this year.
Next month, the count begins in earnest so the government can meet its constitutional mandate to count the U.S. population every 10 years. This operation is critical because the census is the basis for divvying up representation in Congress and federal revenue.
An accurate count is absolutely critical for Florida. Since the last census, Florida has become the third most populated state in the nation by adding nearly 2.5 million people, and thus is poised to pick up at least one if not two more congressional seats — which, in turn, makes this November’s elections even more important, as the Legislature will draw new congressional and legislative boundaries next year.
This week, though, the federal Government Accountability Office released a report noting that the Census Bureau still must deal with several deficiencies that may not be fully addressed by March 1, when the count gets going outside of Alaska.
Among other things, according to the GAO, the bureau was 400,000 short of hitting its recruitment goal of workers who help conduct the count; andwas at risk of not having several of its IT programs tested and ready by the dedicated deadline; and faced doubts about the security of systems that manage social media disinformation and citizen data — which is important since beginning on March 12 all households will receive census invitations containing unique identification codes, the first time the census will offer a digital response.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau faces critics from outside.
Dillingham, the bureau’s director, who also testified at the House hearing, maintained that his agency is up to the job. “We are confident that we are on mission, on budget and on target,” he said. “The 2020 census is positioned for success.”
We hope he’s right, and we’ll surely know more after March 12, when people begin responding to the census survey. Because this litany of issues could feed among many Americans a loss of confidence in the government — something that Washington does little to mitigate these days.
But we do know the Census Bureau got one thing right so far: Lizzie Chimiugak is in the books.
The Lakeland Ledger