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How The Method For Counting Missionaries In The Census Impacts Utah

With few exceptions, United States citizens living abroad are not counted in the census-- including missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because so many missionaries call Utah home, this can cause controversy, because the state does not receive funding for these individuals for the next ten years. 

“But it means that every community will lose counting of those who are missionaries that are legitimate residents, other than the fact they're on a two year mission , for the next 10 years. As far as the official census of the United States is concerned, they don't exist. And anything that comes for programs for funding, that also means that they don’t generate anything for that community,” said Congressman Rob Bishop.

Bishop is frustrated missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are living abroad are not counted in the census. In 2000, Bishop said Utah was less than 850 residents short of a congressional seat. If missionaries were counted, Bishops said it would have been a different story.  

Because federal employees and active military personal living abroad are counted, Bishop said there should be an effort made to include all citizens living abroad. While not everyone would successfully be counted, he thinks the effort should still be made, especially when there is easy documentation of these citizens, in the case of missionaries. 

“The Census Bureau could say, now we're going to attempt to count American who are living abroad and make that simply as a policy. We tried to encourage them to do that and get them to do that while I was in Congress, and they flat out refused because it would be too much work for them. The Church in Utah can easily document their kids. There are missionaries of other denominations that are out there that are easily tractable. They also should count for those areas in which they reside,” said Bishop.

Despite this argument, The Federal district court in Salt Lake City found in 2001 that counting Latter-day Saint missionaries would disproportionately increase Utah’s population count, while counting federal and military personnel helps all the states.

Bishop believes that missionaries returning home due to the coronavirus pandemic will have some effect on the census but not the full effect they would have if they were documented while living abroad.