April 4, 2019

With the 2020 U.S. Census just one year away, Multnomah County on Thursday, April 4 joined the State of Oregon, Clackamas and Washington counties, Metro, and the cities of Portland and Gresham in a resolution affirming its commitment to an accurate and complete count.

The resolution marked the official kickoff to a yearlong public awareness campaign in advance of the 24th U.S. Census on April 1, 2020. Since 1790, the United States Census Bureau has conducted the Census every 10 years, gathering population information that sets a baseline for services, infrastructure and political representation in Multnomah County and the rest of the nation. 

Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly (middle) briefs the Board of County Commissioners on the importance of the U.S. Census.

“I want to thank our entire Board for joining together in our efforts to conduct a complete count for the 2020 Census,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who’s leading the County’s Census public awareness efforts. “This kind of teamwork exemplifies the importance of working together with our entire community as we begin outreach strategies.”

Each year, using data from the Census, the federal government allocates hundreds of billions of dollars of funding to the states. Those funds are used for Medicaid, Medicare, transportation, supplemental nutrition assistance, housing assistance, school lunches and other programs. In 2016, Oregon received more than $13 billion to administer those programs.

The Census also affects Congressional district maps, ensuring proper representation based on population. Oregon is expected to gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to population growth.

How people are counted will depend on where they live. All U.S. households are encouraged to self-respond online, by phone, or through a paper questionnaire. Census employees will personally contact all households who don’t respond initially.

Local leaders voiced their commitment to a fair and accurate Census during Thursday’s meeting while reaffirming the importance of the Census in serving residents across the region. Panelists included Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales, Portland State University Population Research Center Associate Director Jason Jurjevich, and partners in the Multnomah County Complete Count Committee.

“We know that conducting the Census is one of the most fundamental functions of the federal government,” said City Commissioner Eudaly. “Getting an accurate count has critical implications for federal funding and political power.”

Councilor Morales joined by video. He added, “The 2020 Census is essential for East County because we need the investments so that our communities can thrive. Having an accurate count helps so that our representatives invest more in our county and increase Congressional representation for the next 10 years.” 

Speakers also expressed the need to reach historically underserved communities. Groups that tend to be under-counted include some of the County’s most vulnerable populations and often receive services that are funded with help from the Census. The Complete Count Committee is working to ensure all residents are counted in a fair, equitable and culturally-responsive manner.

A successful effort, speakers said, especially depends on reaching immigrant and refugee communities. Fear over potential targeting of undocumented residents is expected to threaten response rates. Experts have reiterated the Census will not be used to track undocumented people or exclude marginalized communities.

“It is absolutely critical that we get a complete count,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “There are four neighborhoods in my district in North and Northeast Portland which are among the least counted in the country, and we know that the folks in those neighborhoods are communities of color and immigrants and refugees.”

In the year ahead, the County and its partners will continue to raise awareness about the importance of the Census by engaging the public. Leaders have pledged to make sure everyone gets counted--especially those who have historically been left out.

“The 2020 Census is about so much more than just counting our population. It is about our representative democracy, equity and fairness,” Commissioner Stegmann said. “We only have this opportunity once every decade. We must seize this moment in time to ensure all voices are counted and heard.”