What comes to mind when you hear about the Census? Filling out forms? Census workers knocking on doors? Long statistical reports?
While those descriptors might be true, they don’t tell the whole story. The Census is a powerful tool that directly influences how political and economic resources are distributed. It affects all of us — individually and as communities — so it’s important to understand the answers to a few significant questions.
Why do we have the Census?
It’s a Constitutional mandate to conduct a nationwide census every 10 years, and the U.S. has been doing so since 1790. Next year’s 2020 Census will be our 24th.
What happens to the information collected?
Census data determine how seats in Congress are allocated. Forecasters anticipate that when the 2020 Census reveals where population has expanded and contracted, as many as 16 states will experience changes in the number of Congressional seats they have.
Census data is also the basis for formulas that allocate federal funds for initiatives such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Head Start, WIC, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and more. A substantial amount of revenue results; currently federal funding allocated using Census data totals approximately $11.3 billion per year in Missouri and $4.5 billion in Kansas.
This data is also used to guide a wide range of business and community planning and investment decisions, such as the need for new schools or the right place to bring new retail outlets.
It’s easy to understand the importance of obtaining the most accurate count possible through the Census. Without it, community needs can be misunderstood and resources could be allocated inequitably.
Why are we talking about the 2020 Census now?
While many experience the Census as a simple administrative task that takes just a few minutes, the overall effort, to achieve the Census Bureau’s goal to count all 327+ million people “once, only once, and in the right place,” involves planning and preparing in advance.
Our community partners that work with hard-to-count populations will be especially vital to the success of the Census by addressing fears and answering questions from their clients about the Census.
What factors could contribute to an inaccurate Census?
Some groups have been counted less accurately than others in the past. Young adults of color, very young children, Hispanics/Latinx, people in low-income households, and renters are among those who have historically been undercounted.
Others might be hesitant to participate in the Census in the current environment, where distrust of government is growing. And, a proposal to add a question about citizenship to the Census has caused additional concern about dampening participation.
And there’s a new approach to administering the Census for 2020: it will be the first Census to emphasize online and phone responses. Those with poor internet access – especially rural populations, the elderly, and lower income households – are at higher risk for missed or incomplete participation.
What should we be doing now?
An accurate Census that leads to fair allocation of resources depends on all of us. We need strategies to reach those who have been undercounted in the past and to engage people in this “digital first” Census. There are many ways you can help.
- Share this post so everyone knows how important it is to participate in the Census. Encourage others to be ready to participate when the time comes.
- Learn more. This Ford Foundation video provides a great overview of the Census and issues facing us in 2020.
- Help shatter myths. For example, you can assure people that the data they provide to the Census Bureau will remain confidential – it’s the law! The Census Bureau cannot share identifying information with anyone, not even other government agencies.
- Watch for more information as the Census gets closer and stay involved. We need you to spread the word and encourage others to participate.