The head count of every U.S. resident in 2020 helped guide the distribution of $2.8 trillion in annual federal spending, underscoring the importance of participating in the once-a-decade census, according to a new report released in June by the U.S. Census Bureau.
There were 353 federal assistance programs that used the Census Bureau data in 2021 to steer the allocation of the federal funding, up from 316 programs accounting for $1.5 trillion in 2017 when a similar study was conducted, according to the report.
The federal funding is distributed to state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses and households. In 2021, it helped pay for health care, education, school lunch programs, COVID-19 relief, child care and highway construction, among other things.
“The Census Bureau’s new, more comprehensive report shows that an accurate decennial census is critical to the fair distribution of federal nondefense spending,” said Andrew Reamer, a George Washington University research professor who helped produce the report.
The Census Bureau, which conducts the U.S. censuses every 10 years, doesn’t determine how the federal funding is distributed.
The breadth of the programs and the amount of money at stake underscore how some communities can miss out on funding opportunities if they aren’t counted. The 2020 census was among the most difficult in recent memory because of obstacles posed by the spread of COVID-19, which in the U.S. coincided with the head count.
Adding to the difficulties were hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, wildfires in the West and unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire, which critics say may have scared off immigrants and others.
Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents were missed at higher rates in the 2020 census than they were in the 2010 census, with the undercount 3.3% for the Black population, almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Alaskans living on reservations.
Besides helping guide the distribution of federal funding, figures from the census determine how many congressional seats each state gets and are used for redrawing political districts.