2020 Census: How counting every child shapes Huntsville’s future

single-meta-cal March 13, 2020

Editor’s note: This 2020 Census piece is the second in a four-part series exploring historically hard-to-reach populations in Huntsville.

Some days, Huntsville resident Zeb Lemon can’t make it through a stack of mail.

Why? Because he has a 15-month-old daughter, who consumes nearly every minute of his day as a stay-at-home dad and woodworker.

Finding time to sort the mail is difficult when he’s always prioritizing tasks and tackling new challenges that arise. Although he wouldn’t trade these years with his toddler, Lemon said taking time to do nothing can feel like a luxury.

“When you do have that free moment and she finally takes a nap and you don’t have 100 percent of your attention directed at your kid, it’s hard not to just sit on the couch for a second and not do anything,” he said.

Every kid counts

Lemon’s case isn’t unusual. For most parents – especially those with young children – life can feel like a constant race to get things done.

Add filling out the 2020 Census to their never-ending to-do list and many parents will roll their eyes or sigh in frustration.

“They’re just busy,” said Stephenie Walker, co-founder of Rocket City Mom, a local parenting site. “They’re already worked out. They’re already stressed out. They have so many activities after school and they kind of just want to collapse at the end of the day.”

Anything from public education to public health, these are all things that affect kids, parents and grandparents on the daily.”

Huntsville City Planner James Vandiver said more than 1 million children under the age of 5 were not counted in the 2010 Census. This undercount happened regardless of ethnicity, income or geography.

Hoping to avoid this trend in 2020, Vandiver said not filling out the Census form has huge, long-term consequences for all demographics, especially kids.

“As a parent of an under-5 myself, my theory for that undercount is that many parents don’t think they have time to take the Census,” he said. “But not taking the 10 minutes to complete the Census can impact that child’s life over the next 10 years. … The next time these children will be counted, the oldest of them will be in high school.”

Vandiver said even if a child is born on March 31, 2020 – the day before Census Day (April 1) – they should be counted.

Census impact

The Census counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas. Census data determines how many seats Alabama will hold in the U.S. House of Representatives and how many federal dollars will be allocated across the state.

Lawmakers, business owners and others use Census data to make decisions impacting local schools, roads, facilities and programs. Notable Census-related initiatives include the National School Lunch Program, Pell grants, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The U.S. Census Bureau also provides data critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts. With the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) scare, it’s even more important to get a complete and accurate Census count.

“Anything from public education to public health, these are all things that affect kids, parents and grandparents on the daily,” Walker said. “If that data is not as accurate as possible, you’re going to see some of those gaps get bigger.”

Making time

Rachel Brown moved to Huntsville from Nashville four years ago for her husband’s job. A registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Brown has two young children and runs a growing social media platform called Rocket City Dietitian.

You need to give them your count because you matter.”

While her kids attend a Mother’s Morning Out program five days a week, Brown meets with clients and visits other moms. But with a spouse who travels frequently for work, most of the childrearing falls on her.

“I’m the one getting them dressed, changing them, breaking up their fights, feeding them, getting them to school, grocery shopping,” she said.

Despite her busy schedule, Brown plans to make time for the Census this year and hopes other families do, too.

“When you fill it out, it determines how much money is allocated to different things in your city,” she said. “You need to give them your count because you matter.”

Civic duty

The Census takes just 10 minutes or less to fill out, but has 10 years of impact on shaping Huntsville’s future. Each home must participate – or else a representative with the Census Bureau will follow up in person to collect information.

Lemon, a former medic for the U.S. Army, came to Huntsville several years ago to work on Redstone Arsenal. The South Carolina native, who now runs an Etsy shop called LemonAndOak, considers participating in the Census as important as voting for president.

“People are so worried about moving to the right neighborhood or moving to the right district for schools, especially parents of babies and toddlers, but they probably don’t think about how much the Census has to do with that kind of thing,” Lemon said. “It’s a moral requirement to do the best that we can to look out for each other.”

Stay up to date on the latest Census information on the City of Huntsville’s website.

Concerned about COVID-19? You can practice social distancing by responding online, over the phone or by mail without ever meeting a Census taker. More info here.


Why I Count: Reaching Huntsville’s Hispanic/Latino community