US Census could mean big money for York County roads, schools, politics

York County has two big reasons to make sure all its residents get counted.

“We get that raw data and that raw data is used for two things — money and power,” said Jan Smiley with the U.S. Census Bureau. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Smiley is a Fort Mill resident of more than 30 years. She worked the 2010 census in Rock Hill. On Monday night Smiley made her case in front of York County Council for why everyone should participate in the 2020 census starting with mailers arriving in mid-March.

“It is vital,” Smiley said. “We all know how our area has grown in the last 10 years. But again, if we don’t have the numbers to back that up, we can complain all we want about our needs. If we don’t have the numbers, the money doesn’t follow.”

The federal government allocates more than $675 billion annually, Smiley said. Money for roads, schools, healthcare and more come from the headcount undertaken every decade since 1790. Grant allocations also rely on census data.

“If we don’t have the numbers to back up our grant applications and our pleas for help, we’re not going to get the aid,” Smiley said. “That’s just how it works.”

Census counts also determine voting districts. In 2010 South Carolina gained a U.S. House of Representatives seat based on population.

“Legislative districts at the local, state and national level are often redrawn after decennial census,” Smiley said.

Louisiana suffered the past decade, she said, when many residents likely displaced by Hurricane Katrina still weren’t back in place and counted in 2010. Texas gained federal voting districts, Smiley said, perhaps from hurricane evacuees still there at the 2010 count.

“There are states this time around that know they are at risk of losing a seat and they are investing some serious money to make sure their constituents know how important it is to get counted,” Smiley said.

The ramifications of missing the count, she said, are long-lasting.

“We get one chance every 10 years to get it right,” Smiley said. “If we mess up in 2020 those are the numbers that we have until 2030.”

Council members say they understand the importance of getting an accurate count of people here.

“Common sense says this has to be done,” said Councilman Britt Blackwell.

Councilman William “Bump” Roddey said his first job at age 16 was with the census bureau. He stresses the census isn’t about locating individual people, but numbers of people.

“Those groups that are hard to reach sometimes, don’t want to put any statistics to their location because one somebody may be looking for them, there may be some legal situations,” he said. “And just not understanding the importance of it.”

There has been discussion ahead of the 2020 census about citizenship. The census won’t include a citizenship question, and will account for anyone living in the country.

Smiley said questions on how undocumented or illegal residents could impact the census or voting districts are beyond her role with the group, but that reasoning suggests anyone living in an area has an impact on services needed.

“The census bureau’s take on that is, if people are living here they’re using the services,” Smiley said. “They’re using the hospital, they’re using the roads, they’re using the schools. Therefore we need the money to support the services.”

Of note, the census bureau doesn’t allocate money. It also doesn’t set voting districts or award grants and public service funding. Elected officials make those decisions, based on raw data from the census.

Smiley asked for the county’s help in educating the public on the census. First, she said, census employees are sworn to lifetime secrecy and can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 for disclosing any personal information they collect. There also is a 72-year confidentiality agreement with census forms.

Genology fans are still awaiting data from the 1950 census, Smiley said, which won’t be published for two more years.

“Your name, your address, your birthday, that is held under lock and key for 72 years,” she said.

Specific and detailed living arrangements also won’t be disclosed.

“We can’t share it with law enforcement,” Smiley said. “We don’t share it with landlords, so if people have more people living there in their apartment than they’re supposed to, that’s between them and the census form. We don’t share that.”

Households will get the first of up to five mailers in mid-March. The census will be available in 13 languages. There will be online, paper and toll free phone options for responding.

“For the first time ever, we’re going to have a choice,” Smiley said.

In 2010, she said, York County led South Carolina with a self-response rate of 81%. Still, that figure leaves plenty of households where a census taker had to show up at the door.

“That’s almost one out of five homes in York County that had to have somebody come to the door,” Smiley said. “And if somebody wasn’t home the first time, then one out of five homes had to have somebody come to the door a second time. It’s very expensive to follow up.”

Census takers will start that process in mid-May for households that haven’t responded. York County still needs about 1,000 more workers for the $15-an-hour, flex schedule jobs running about six weeks.

Smiley said some populations are historically harder to count, while others pop up at unexpected times. The census a decade ago missed counting about 1 million children age 0-5 based on figures of students who later showed up for kindergarten, Smiley said, and the bureau isn’t sure why.

The elderly often represent a more predictable group for counting, she said. Yet this year there is concern amid years of public bodies telling the elderly to be cautious giving out personal information to anyone. Smiley said already there have been scams impersonating census workers.

A census worker won’t ask for a social security number, bank account information or money, she said.

For more on the coming census, visit

By John Marks, Staff Reporter with the Fort Mill Times