With all the Coronavirus news, we seemed to miss another C word: Census.
April 1st was National Census Day, the day that highlighted the importance of the US Census. Every ten years, the Census counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico) and uses that information to help disperse money (roughly $650 billion) at the federal level to the community for vital assets like public schools, food stamps and roads. It also determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The census is required by the Constitution, meaning it’s required by law to be filled out and submitted in a timely fashion. Census representatives also count local homeless populations (they matter, too!). If you refuse to fill it out, there could be a hefty fine coming your way.
The questions on the Census are pretty basic (i.e. how many are in your household, the genders living in the household, dates of birth, race and ethnicity questions- whether or not you’re of Hispanic origin, how is everyone in the household related, etc.). The Census will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations and your bank or credit card account numbers. Last year, the Trump Administration recommended adding a citizenship question on the Census which would ask takers if they were a US citizen or not. Immigration rights advocates were concerned about that question as it could possibly out illegal immigrants and make them more vulernable to being caught and deported. The question never made it on to the 2020 Census- a federal judge signed an order last year permanently blocking it (phew!)
Last month, homes across the United States began receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census online. If you were not to complete the Census questionnaire online by the end of April, representatives from the US Census will stop at your front door to count your the residents in your home. With the rise of COVID-19, the Census extended the deadline but lawmakers are still trying to determine how to safety send Census representative to the homes that don’t fill out either the physical or online form.
Everyone living in the United States is supposed to be counted by the census, whether they’re citizens or not. My boyfriend, Amit, and I had a pretty lengthy discussion about the Census and his fear about it. He is from India. He’s been in the United States for eight years and filled out the Census for the first time this year. He was concerned about giving the US government a bunch of his personal information (including his Visa status). I heard from other friends, people of color, who are afraid to fill it out. Immigration aside, one friend is Arab-American and is afraid that if he disclosed his address, he might be watched by the government.
I understand the fear and lack of trust of the Census. Census information is supposed to be confidential information. If you look back in history, that always hasn’t been the truth (check out of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and it’s affect on the Census). But it is important. In 2010, the lowest response rates were in communities of color, neighborhoods that often need the most federal assistance. We need an accurate Census count and this is a way to let your voice be heard.
Have you filled out your part for the US Census, dear reader?