According to the United States Census Bureau, the decennial census reflects our cultural interests, population data, defining moments of a generation and our values. If this is true, then rural Arizona needs to start paying attention to how the deck is stacked.
Required by the U.S. Constitution, the survey has been taken every ten years since 1790. Expect a mailing from the government sometime this April for the 2020 headcount. For the first time ever, you will also have the option of responding online. If you do neither by the deadline, then you will be added to the list of Americans to be visited in person by a census taker.
Two types of census surveys exist, taken regularly in the U.S. to determine the country’s demographics. The decennial is taken every ten years to count everyone and the American Community Survey (ACS) is taken continuously and samples 3 million households per year. What makes the decennial so important is that it sets the standards for all other surveys, including the ACS and the Current Population Survey, which determines labor force statistics. The federal government uses the decennial survey to allocate all types of funding and provide natural disaster response and Congress uses it to determine representation in the U.S. House and the Electoral College. Local governments use it for school and healthcare planning as well as emergency services, while industry uses the information to determine growth opportunities.
In the last several years, I have traveled this state from corner to corner and all the little roads in between. Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State, which brings to mind a visual of vast and rugged open spaces and natural resources still unchecked by development. I have logged many more miles traveling between small towns on two-lane highways bordered by farm and ranch lands, sharing the roads with mining trucks, rather than bumper to bumper in our cities. This is the Arizona I know, but it’s not really the Arizona depicted by the Census Bureau.
Arizona is divided up at a much different scale than most of the country. One county in Arizona can be larger than some northeastern states and “rural” as defined by the Bureau is largely dependent on population at the county, parish, or borough level. This means that all of Pima County is defined by Tucson, all of Coconino County is defined by Flagstaff and all of Mojave County is defined by Kingman. In fact, Arizona is the only state in the west with not one “completely rural” county and has only three (Navajo, Apache, La Paz) counties even considered “mostly rural.” The only other states completely void of a rural county are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Hawaii. Not exactly like Arizona.
< subheadline > Arizona is Passed Up For Rural Funding If You Don't Get Yourself Counted
The Census Project of Georgetown Law points out that in 2016 there were over 300 federal funding programs that distributed about $900 billion to the states. Sixty of those programs were exclusively for rural America, which included about $30 billion in that same year. Rural areas receive four major types of funding: grants, direct loans, guaranteed insured loans and direct payments . For several USDA programs, eligibility requires recipients live in a rural area. Direct loans, such as for rural electrification and business startups, are allocated based upon each state’s rural population. Access to credit through guaranteed loans is also based upon rural eligibility as well as rural health development programs. To this point, ACS survey results for 2012-2017 reflect areas of Arizona without broadband service but focus only on those three “mostly rural” counties. If you are living in a small town or out in the sticks of one of the other 12, you will likely face greater challenges in getting rural funding to develop access to broadband. We all know that access to this technology is crucial in today’s environment for education and economic development.
According to azcensus2020.gov, lower response rates in Arizona have historically come from seniors and rural areas. It’s critical for rural Arizona to respond. Even though the Arizona Chamber of Commerce considers agriculture as “significant in many rural parts of the state” and we know our agriculture industry to be a $23.3 billion economic contributor to Arizona, the unique identity of rural Arizona and its value does not really exist as presented by the Bureau.
Urban areas make up only 3% of the entire land area of the U.S., but 80% of the country’s consumers. While rural areas, where the majority of primary production takes place, make up 97% of the entire land area of the country, but only 20% of the population. If the Bureau is correct and the census reflects not only our population but our values, then much of Arizona’s value, its funding needs and growth opportunities have been muted. Rural citizens and communities have value. What we make, mine and grow fuels the engine of progress and feeds and clothes the people. Our towns provide safe neighborhoods, clean air and water, energy, outdoor recreation, psychological and physical space, higher rates of homeownership and military service. Don’t count us out!
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