Census will have massive financial impact on The Panhandle

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FILE – This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation’s only test run of the 2020 Census. Most Americans say they are likely to participate in the 2020 census, but some doubt that the U.S. Census Bureau will keep their personal information confidential. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 7 in 10 Americans say it’s extremely or very likely they will participate in the census this year. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The 2020 US Census will make a major impact on housing, business opportunities, education, political representation, and child care. 

“The numbers are absolutely critical, mainly for funding purposes,” said Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll. “Every person we lose those are dollars that are not going to come into our community.” 

And, for the first time, the information can be submitted online.

Starting March 12th, invites will be going out through mail directing everyone to go online for the Census. The official date for the census is April 1st, but individuals can start filling out the form on March 12th.

At its core, the census is a questionnaire used by the U.S. Government to determine how many seats each state should get in the U.S. House of Representatives. The data is also used to determine legislature districts, school districts, and other measures.  

But the data from the Census and other sources reveals much more than a simple headcount. For instance, the census shows about 185,000 people lived in Bay County prior to Hurricane Michael; that residents have a per capita income of 28,801 and even that it takes most of us 24 minutes to get to work. The information shows that 90 percent of Bay County’s residents have graduated from high school but only about 23 percent of us have a bachelor’s degree.    

These numbers all add up to real-world results in both the government and private industries. 

The impact for Florida is $44 billion, according to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy. In 2016 researchers there calculated how much money flowed into Florida from the Federal government based on census data. 

According to their figures from 2016, Florida received $13.6 billion for Medicaid, $5.2 in nutrition assistance for kids, $1.7 billion to help needy students go to college, and $1.9 billion for highway planning and construction. 

And that only scratches the surface. Florida’s head start program received $400,000 million, WIC (a nutrition program for Women Infants and Children) got $369 million, the school breakfast program got $256 million and $595 million went to Florida’s Children Health Insurance Program. 

The data derived from the census also impacts the local economy. 

“Without an accurate account of our population we can’t successfully market our community to companies that want to relocate here,” said Becca Hardin, the president of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance. 

The EDA and other agencies build on the census to generate workforce data. That data gives potential employers an idea of what skills a workforce has and what they’ll need to bring a company to the area. For instance, a new employer will know how many engineers are in a specific area. 

“The census numbers are tied to our opportunities,” Hardin said. 

It’s an issue local residents just can’t take for granted. 

“We have to make the most of this opportunity to make sure that every single person in Bay County and indeed Panama City is counted,” City Manager Mark McQueen told News 13 last week. “Let’s put ourselves in the best possible position to return to the growth and economic success we enjoyed before Hurricane Michael.”

Starting March 12th, invites will be going out through mail directing everyone to go online for the Census. This is the first time census forms may be submitted online. The official date for the census is April 1st, but individuals can start filling out the form on March 12th.

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