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It is time to focus on one of the most important headcounts for Arkansas -- the 2020 U.S. Census.

Despite the controversy over "background" or "ethnicity" questions, since settled by the federal courts, the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census and Arkansas' count in that census will be one of the most important matters for the state's next decade.

This past week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a very low-key public relations roll-out, urged Arkansans to take part in the census.

He also appointed a 30-person panel, to be led by former state House of Representatives Democratic member and now Ft. Smith Mayor George McGill, to head this important non-political coalition of elected officials, captains of industry.

One big name that stood out was Springdale businessman, John Tyson, and there are others across the state on Hutchinson's Census panel.

Close to home, Becky Lewallen, the Washington County Clerk, who is in her third term as the GOP County & Probate Clerk, is leading the charge for local county governments.

Another, strong, local voice, Democratic state Senator Greg Leding of Fayetteville, is among on the Governor's appointed panel promoting the 2020 Census.

Hutchinson, in some prepared remarks about the importance of participating in the U.S. Census, called attention to Census Day, which is April 1, 2020.

"Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys the United States to determine the nation's population," Hutchinson began.

"Our founders created the census in order to allocate political power based on population rather than wealth. At the first census, taken in 1790 during George Washington's second year as president, we had 13 states and four states in waiting. Thomas Jefferson, who was secretary of state then, oversaw the census, which was limited to six questions."

The balance of political power, is the determiner of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that go to Arkansas, Hutchinson said.

That history of the U.S. population shifts is interesting.

Once, in 1910, the population of Arkansas was 1.5 million, the state held seven Congressional seats. In 1950, Arkansas' population was 1.9 million; the state lost one Congressional representative, due to the census.

Again, in 1960, the state's population had slipped to 1.8 million; Arkansas lost two more representatives to the census count.

For the last four decades and four censuses, Hutchinson noted, the state has remained steady with four Congressional representatives.

Hopefully, the trend will show the state is growing as in 2017; the population of Arkansas topped 3 million for the first time. The Census Bureau last reported Arkansas' population at 3,013,825.

Could this add a Congressional seat?

Likely not, experts say, but still this recent history emphasizes the importance of an accurate census, Hutchinson noted.

The announcement of the Arkansas Complete Count Committee, a task force of 30 members, who will serve to promote statewide participation in the 2020 Census, was also made by the Governor during his promotion of the census.

Even if the 2020 count by the U.S. Census does not add a new Congressional seat an accurate count of Arkansas' population is critical.

The federal government allocates funding back to the states based upon population counts. An undercount of even 1 percent, or just 30,000 people, could cost Arkansas $990 million over the next decade.

Hutchinson noted that participation will be easier than ever.

"Citizens can respond on their personal computer, smartphone, or tablet. Still if citizens prefer, they may respond the old-fashioned way by submitting your answers on a paper questionnaire and sending it back via regular mail," he said.

Whichever way you choose to participate, please do, Hutchinson said.

"We're counting on every Arkansan to participate, because when it comes to the census, every Arkansan counts," he said.

The 2020 Census is coming and Arkansas does need a complete count for reasons important to the growth of our state.

Please ensure that you and your neighbors are counted.

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 09/11/2019

Print Headline: 2020 Census: Arkansas' most important count

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