TEWKSBURY — The 2020 census may be months away, but many in the Commonwealth are already hard at work trying to ensure the decennial event delivers the most complete population count possible. TMHS graduate and UMass Amherst student Ellen Aron spent her summer interning at UMass’ Donahue Institute on the state’s nonpartisan Population Estimate Program.
According to the Donahue Institute, “the Population Estimate Program’s (PEP) goal is to ensure that the population estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau for Massachusetts are as accurate as possible and inclusive of the most up-to-date information.”
The institute operates under UMass president Marty Meehan, and works on state-assigned, grant-funded projects, including the PEP.
Aron explained that the PEP mapped addresses in every town in Massachusetts, including new addresses resulting from construction of developments, or debatable addresses; for example, a multiplex house with three families should be sent three separate census forms. Aron worked with ArcGIS (architecture geographic information system) technology to accurately pinpoint addresses using latitudes and longitudes.
“It took us a whole month to finish the whole state without Boston,” she said, adding that there is still work to be done before the census launch in April 2020.
Aron explained that there are unique challenges across the Commonwealth. In addition to new developments, mixed-use buildings — part commercial and part residential — can often be missed as addresses.
Several towns are comprised of multiple smaller villages, including Newton and Barnstable: “There could be four separate Main Streets in a town,” said Aron. “It complicates things for the census.”
She further explained that detailed data allows municipalities to prioritize budgets for the next decade; for example, if a town shows a large number of young children, a case can be made for better educational or recreation funding.
“We’re trying our best to include everyone wherever there's evidence of people living. The census is important because it helps with a lot of data for towns and cities, including annual budgets,” said Aron. “Everything [to do with] population matters. If towns know how diverse their communities are, and the number of people who live there, they can be better funded. It’s for a good use, and we use census data in a lot of economic projections.”
Aron graduated from Tewksbury Memorial High School in 2016. She is entering her senior year at UMass Amherst and is double majoring in economics and political science with a minor in Spanish. After graduation, she plans to work as a paralegal, and eventually go to law school to study immigration law.
The census is required by Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution: “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.”
The first census was conducted in 1790. The census is critical to determining how $675 billion in federal funds are allocated across the country for programs such as highway maintenance, Medicare, school lunch assistance, Pell grants for college students, and nutritional assistance. The 2020 Census begins on April 1, 2020.