How important is the 2020 census to Dickinson and southwest North Dakota?

Important enough that at the beginning of 2019, Dickinson formed the Complete Count Committee, which is comprised of leaders in various sectors of the community. They formed subcommittees including energy, manufacturing, religious organizations, rental properties, hospitality industry, etc. The members of these subcommittees work to educate their perspective sectors on the census.

People with questions about the census can reach out to the members of Dickinson's Complete Count Committee, who will be wearing blue shirts every Wednesday with "ASK US" written on them.

Here are some things about the census residents should be aware of:

What is it?

The census is a once-a-decade population and housing count of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.

The census is mandated in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years ... The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."

Who gets counted, and how?

Between March 12 and March 20, households will begin receiving invitations to respond to the census, and everyone should have one by April 1. Once you've received the invitation, you can respond by mail, phone or online.

When completing your form, count everyone who is living there as of April 1, 2020, including any friends or family members who are living there most of the time. Make sure to count roommates and children — including newborns.

Some people are harder to count than others, for various reasons, says Kevin Iverson, census office manager for North Dakota.

“You’ve got suspicious of government/low civil engagement would be the first one. The second one is people who are just hard to find, they’re undocumented or recently moved," he said. "They’re not well-connected in society or in hidden housing units. Certainly, we’ve had those in western North Dakota. For instance, people who may be living over top of a store that’s not zoned for residential — those people are hard to find. Individuals with language barriers or low literacy rates … or — and this is a big issue in the western part of the state — highly mobile populations. We certainly have that with Bakken oilfield workers.”

People who spend the majority of their time in North Dakota should be counted in North Dakota.

"Anytime you’re spending more than 51% of your time in a given area, that’s where they should be counted," Iverson said. "… Look at the students at Dickinson State who may be legal residents of Montana but they’re attending school at Dickinson State, so that’s where they’re spending the majority of their time. By the census rules for residency, you’re counted where you spend the most of your time, so they should be counted in Dickinson."

This also applies to military service members at the Grand Forks in Minot Air Force bases and people in prison.


Ryan Jilek of Stark Development Corporation leads Dickinson's Complete Count Committee.

"There are many misconceptions regarding the questions asked and how the data is used," he said. "The first and most important question that needs to be answered is that whatever you submit on your census is private, confidential and ... cannot be used for 72 years, or until 2092. Your census responses will not affect your citizenship, resident drivers, hunting or fishing licenses, etc."

Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, private information obtained by the census cannot be published, and personal information cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.

The U.S. Census Bureau states that it only uses responses to produce statistics. On privacy, it shared the following: "We cannot publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you. We will never share your information with immigration enforcement agencies such as ICE, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or police, or allow it to be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits."

The Census Bureau states that its employees are "sworn to protect confidentiality," and that failing to do so could come with a penalty of a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

Federal funding

The population count in the census determines the amount of federal dollars that are sent to North Dakota.

According to a study by The George Washington Institute of Public Policy, "In fiscal year 2015, $1.45 billion in federal funds were obligated in North Dakota based upon resident counts from Census 2010 and subsequent annual population estimates. This equates to $1,910 in federal funds distributed annually for each North Dakota resident."

This includes federal money for the following: Medicaid and Medicare; highway planning and construction; supplemental nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called SNAP and formerly known as food stamps; the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program, or WIC; the national school lunch program; Head Start and education grants; housing and energy assistance; family and child assistance such as the Children's Health Insurance Program and foster care; and health center programs.

In some cases, census counts determine a community's eligibility for federal program money. For example, Community Development Block Grants provide assistance to cities, towns and villages with populations under 50,000 and counties with an area population under 200,000. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service program — the Community Facilities loan and grant, which supports facilities such as fire stations and child care centers, has a population threshold of 20,000.

According to the institute, more than 300 federal spending programs rely on data derived from the census to guide the distribution of funds.


State Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, explained how the Legislature uses census data for redistricting, which begins after the next legislative session ends in April 2021.

A selected committee will travel around the state with a demographer — someone to map where the people are — holding hearings in different communities, he said.

"They will know how many people are in every country, every township, every city," Wardner said. "They will start taking a look at how many people will be in a district. For example, if we stay with 47 districts (in the state), then we will divide 47 into whatever the (state) population is, and that is what we’ll consider the number of people we want in each district. Then you start drawing the lines and trying to make sure each district has the exact same number when you start. After 10 years, there are some districts that have twice as many people as they started with 10 years prior, so we’ve got to redistrict, we’ve got to reapportion the people."

Because of population changes, some districts will get smaller; some will get larger.

"Did you know that on the south side of the river in Williston, those people are in the same district as the people in Hettinger? That’s District 39," Wardner said. "That’s a big district … There’s a lot of people moved into the Watford City area and McKenzie County, so that particular district is going to get smaller in size."

Because its population has increased since the last census in 2010, western North Dakota stands to gain state representatives.

"Western North Dakota has changed a lot over the last 10 years, and we have the most to gain or lose by not accurately counting our region on the state level," Jilek said. "State legislative representation is one of the greatest gains we can see collectively in western North Dakota. Increased populations in the west give us a much greater voice for our region at the state level."

The census helps get the correct number of representatives to the state Legislature from each area.

"Right now, District 39 has got way more people; the number of people has increased tremendously from what it was 10 years ago," Wardner said. "Well, is that fair that they have one senator for probably twice as many people as another district does? It gives them better representation."

Business development

"For our office, we are constantly watching our local economic indicators," Jilek said. "We publish an economy at a glance every month that includes data from various sources, including the U.S. census. Through these data sources, we create the larger picture of our economy and use these numbers for workforce and business recruitment and retention. The census data also provides context to the markup of our community and helps us makes better future planning decisions."

Jilek said retail is a great example.

"Site selectors typically define a trade area and set a population base within that trade area to be considered for a possible location. Oftentimes these base numbers hover around major milestones," he said.

Dickinson's population at the last census in 2010 was recorded as 17,787.

"If the 2020 Census population numbers for Dickinson come in over 25,000 or even 30,000, it will open a lot of doors for us to recruit new businesses," Jilek said.