The data from the latest U.S. Census is in and several of the numbers look good for Clay County according to Mayor Kelsey Collier-Wise.
“Vermillion saw a really great growth since our last census,” Collier-Wise said. “We’re at nearly 11,700 which is just fantastic, especially knowing the challenges that we faced trying to get the census done this year.”
According to the U.S. Census website, Vermillion’s population is up 3.3% from the last census in 2010.
Collier-Wise said that Vermillion had a committee working to promote census participation.
“We were going to have events and we were going to do all these things and then the pandemic hit,” Collier-Wise said. “Many of the students that were here that had been gone for spring break didn’t come back and so all of those plans kind of fell apart and we were really worried that we might be looking at an undercount and so to see it come through was a huge relief and a real testament to the community.”
Collier-Wise said the growth didn’t come as a surprise.
“We sensed that,” Collier-Wise said. “We’ve seen a lot of houses being built and generally our economic activity has gone up and so I felt in my heart that for sure we were going to have growth, but it was nice to see that actually show up.”
Poverty rate is another common area of interest with the census website reporting 28% for Vermillion.
“At one point the estimate was that we had almost a 38 percent poverty rate which is just huge and pretty upsetting,” Collier-Wise said. “Being able to see that number go down has also been very affirming.”
Collier-Wise said city policies and direction have been focused on growth and creating opportunity for all people.
“To see both the population grow and also the poverty rate go down and the median income go up, I think, is really gratifying because it says we have been going in the right direction,” Collier-Wise said. “What we’re doing is working.”
The census is more than just a head count. It also helps with redistricting for all levels of government including the city council wards.
“Our city is divided into four wards and that’s how our city council is elected,” Collier-Wise said. “There’s two representatives from each ward. Those boundary lines change based on the census. So, for example, after the 2010 census in Central Ward, one of their boundaries moved from Yale Street a block over to University Street.
“People who had previously been in one ward now were in a different ward and so that means it’s different in who can run and who can vote in those city council elections,” she said, “and it just makes sure the council is more balanced and representative of all of the community.”
Because the census happens every 10 years it can be easy for people to forget the importance of high participation.
“You really have to start at ground zero every time educating people on how important the census is,” Collier-Wise said. “Besides the fact that people want to know that their community is growing and they want to have accurate representation, there’s a lot of federal aid and programs and things like that are given out based on those census numbers.
“Whether you like it or not, I want the people in my community to have access to the services they need and I don’t need that money going to Yankton,” she said. “I want it in Vermillion. That's another reason the accuracy of the census is so important.”
So how do we know if there’s an undercount?
According to Collier-Wise, the Census Bureau itself establishes if people aren’t filling it out.
“They have data ways through other points to be able to tell us if there’s an undercount based on responses,” she said.
That data includes the Census Bureau keeping track of whether they receive responses after sending forms to households.
“At one point we did know about our response rate and it was very good,” the mayor said.
For anyone who might be worried that the census is an invasion of privacy, this is not true.
“I think that it’s important for people to know that disaggregated or raw data is really not available at all,” Collier-Wise said. “That is under the strictest of confidence. Even when you fill out a census it’s not attached to your name or anything like that in any meaningful way. It’s something like 70 years when they release that...Before that no one is going to be able to look up whether you filled out the census, what you said or anything like that anytime soon. Certainly not in my lifetime.”
She expressed a great interest in digging into more of the numbers once the data filters into the “Quick Facts” section of the census website.
“That is what most people are going to see is those quick facts,” she said. “You can put in your county and put in your community and it breaks it down into categories of workforce, of poverty, of demographics of age and that’s what’s actually helpful to your average person.”
Since the release of the raw data was delayed it’s going to take a while for the quick facts to update, according to the mayor.
Thanks to something called the American Community Survey conducted in between each census there’s already an idea of how the county is doing.
“Because of the American Community Survey you have a general idea in those quick facts of where we are but you really want those census numbers to confirm it,” Collier-Wise said. “There’s more interesting things still to come that we’re going to find out about in our community.”
To view the census data visit www.census.gov/quickfacts.