Do you think the U.S. Census Bureau only collects numbers that people will research years from now while looking for dead ancestors?
It’s not. The census is so much more than numbers.
According to Census.gov, when a person responds to the census, a community receives its share of more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other programs.
The census, which occurs every 10 years, is important for another reason – population health.
Population health is the study of people and their health that is influenced by their environment – where they live, eat and work. That means your ZIP code plays a big role in your overall health and well-being.
Census data will impact federal funding for the state’s healthcare programs
Census data has a large impact on certain health programs including, for example, the WIC program for expectant mothers. In rural areas where healthcare may be underserved, census data can help determine how much federal money these small towns may need for medical programs.
Census data can also help ensure more equitable access to healthcare. Unbalanced healthcare does exist. Last year, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield examined County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
One common theme was that money and health are inextricably connected. In short, the more economically robust a county is, the healthier its population is likely to be – and vice versa.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to overall health outcomes in the state, the best results are found in Benton County in northwest Arkansas, where business-world giants like Walmart, Tyson and J.B. Hunt have their headquarters.
The worst overall health outcomes in the state are found along the impoverished Mississippi River Delta of eastern Arkansas. Phillips County, anchored by the Helena/West Helena area, was the hub of the cotton trade in bygone days and a birthing ground for blues artists. Today, the area is struggling with a loss of jobs and resources, especially in healthcare.
Census data can also help the country and states determine social determinants of health. These determinants such as income, housing and national origins, can greatly impact health.
Certain populations, such as communities of color and people living in poverty, are more likely to be missed by the census, which can adversely impact the allocation of resources to people and places that most need them. But if everyone is counted in these communities, more federal dollars can go toward helping these communities have better access to healthcare and other resources.
That’s why it is important to be counted this year. The U.S. Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on September 30, a month sooner than previously announced.
Be counted: it’s easy
You can fill out the census form online. If you live in Little Rock, the city is holding Census Saturdays with volunteers available to help citizens with the census form. Other cities are also sponsoring census events.
In Arkansas, more than four out of every 10 households in the state have not yet submitted responses to the census. That undercount could cost the state billions of dollars in federal money over the next 10 years.
Wherever you live in Arkansas, be sure to be counted. Your health and the health of your community depend on it.