2020 Census: Accurate count key in Arkansas, but broadband access raises concerns

About one in four Arkansans doesn't have broadband access
By Ginny Monk | November 25, 2018

With about 17 months until the start of the 2020 U.S. Census, experts are looking at ways to hurdle over issues like Internet connectivity and a question regarding citizenship that they think could result in an undercount in Arkansas and a loss of federal funds for the state.

From 2010-17, Arkansas’ overall population grew by about 3 percent, from about 2.9 million to just over 3 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But the population in rural counties, especially in the Delta, has been dropping for years.

“My biggest concern in Arkansas is that the primary mechanism for getting answers is the Internet, and Arkansas does not have good numbers, especially in more rural populations,” said Pam Willrodt, a demographer at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute.

Willrodt has been working with the Census Bureau and communities across the state to prepare for the count, which will rely more heavily on the Internet for planning and for census-taking.

About one in every four Arkansans, or 744,572, doesn’t have broadband access, according to 2016 data from the Federal Communications Commission. Broadband is the term used to describe high-speed Internet access rather than dial-up access.

The census, required by the U.S. Constitution, is used to divvy up federal money, determine political representation and inform demographic research, among other things. The goal is to count everyone once and in the right place, according to bureau documents.

Even missing 1 percent of the population could mean that Arkansas will lose billions of dollars in federal funding for programs like school lunches, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said Rich Huddleston, the executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. The group does research and advocacy work about issues like education, poverty and health care.

In fiscal 2015, Arkansas lost $909 in federal money for each person who wasn’t counted in the last decennial census, according to a study from the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy. Federal dollars are doled out, in part, based on population.

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock projects that a 1 percent undercount in 2020 could cause the state to lose $750 billion over a decade.

Read the full Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.

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