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2030 Now

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carroll G. Robinson
October 6, 2023

In just a few months, the political world will be fully engrossed with the 2024 and likely 2028 presidential nomination processes.

For public administrators, our focus next year should be getting local communities, counties and states organized and prepared for the 2030 Census.

2030 may seem like a long way away but history has shown us that one to two years is not enough lead time to get ready to fully count our nation’s population, one town, city and county at a time, especially people of color and low income rural and urban residents.

No one truly knows the full and accurate number of people missed (undercounted) in each decennial census. There are a number of mathematical estimates of the undercount after each census but they are just that—estimates. If we truly knew how many people were actually missed each census there would be no undercount.

In the past, after each census, towns, cities, counties and states generally decommission and dismantle their community based complete count committees. That is a mistake that needs to end.

Starting next year, towns, cities, counties and states should reconstitute their complete count committees and make them permanent civic engagement operations to engage and prepare their residents to help organize data and participation in the 2030 census count.

Local communities should seek philanthropic, state and federal funding (through the Commerce Department) to help fund their year-round complete count civic engagement activities. 

Starting to get their communities organized early and investing in the effort will pay dividends for local communities in terms of more federal formula funding based on a better and higher population count after each census count going forward.

The Commerce Department should encourage this early complete count organizational effort nationwide.

The Commerce Department should also set aside funding each year to invest in helping local communities get organized earlier. The department also needs to start engaging stakeholders now in drafting the 2030 census questionnaire and using focus groups to test its ease of use and technological adaptability. 

The Commerce Department should start partnering now with our nation’s colleges and universities, especially our schools of public affairs and public administration, to serve as community based consultants to local communities. This will enable them to build their complete count committees and to build and maintain an ongoing database of prior volunteers and paid census workers as well as recruit future volunteers and paid canvassers so that process does not have to be rebuilt, basically from scratch, every eight to nine years.

Colleges, universities and our faculty have long term presences in our communities and are a source of continuity and stability that should be utilized to professionalize the census complete count process.

Presidential elections are important, but so is the federal government’s constitutional responsibility for counting our nation’s population every ten years. It is time to stop treating the decennial census as an ad-hoc project that sneaks up on us every ten years like an assigned term paper we all knew was due since the start of an academic semester. 

Now is the time for public administrators to start helping local communities, counties and states get permanently organized for the 2030 census and those to follow. We are too big a nation to keep waiting and continuing to undercount our population. 

The 2030 Census is closer than you think. It’s just two years after the 2028 presidential election. Do you see it now?

Author: Carroll G. Robinson is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. Professor Robinson is a former At-Large Houston City Council Member. 

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