by Kamna Shastri
It is 2020 and with the beginning of a new decade comes time to take official count of our nation’s population. Census 2020 has been in the news for a few years now with special concerns over immigration status and citizenship being raised under the Trump administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the Census. Here are some basics to understand what the census is, why it matters, and what you need to do.
Why the Census Matters
Every ten years, the US government conducts a headcount of every single person living in the United States. The census count is more than just a population statistic. It plays a role in influencing policy and elections. State populations affect the number of seats allotted to that state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Getting an accurate count in the 2020 Census itself is “critical in how our communities are represented in the political system,” said 11th District Senator Bob Hasegawa. In the last legislative session, Hasegawa pushed a budget proviso for the state to contribute $15 million dollars toward getting a good census count. “Our ability to access general funding for the next ten years depends on getting a good count,” Hasegawa said.
Population counts for counties, states, and regions have real consequences in how budgets are created and doled out for resources that affect everything from emergency management services, to education and road infrastructure.
The federal government’s immigration policies and mixed messages about the dangers of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is adding to concern about a Census 2020 undercount. Lack of confidence in what the federal government might do with Census information is concerning to many. Thus, there’s an all out effort by many south end community organizations, local government and foundations to ensure an accurate Census 2020 count.
Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez is coordinating the Census 2020 work at El Centro De la Raza. She says a census count also influences how service organizations do their work.
“When it comes to non-profits, we really rely on statistics from the census when we are asking for funding to be able to provide our resources,” she said. Vasquez shared a prime example of how an accurate count can have real effects on community. For example, a community member mentioned wanting a Walmart in South King County with products that would be useful to the Latinx community. For that to happen, it would be important to get an accurate count of how many Latinx people reside in that region.
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Concerns over immigration status
Various attempts by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question have sent panic across immigrant communities since 2018. The citizenship question is NOT featured in the census and by law, personal information will not be shared with any other agency.
Immigrant communities and communities of color have had a history of being undercounted. Proactively engaging with the census is a way to advocate for community-specific needs. Many national and local community organizations have been working hard to strategize campaigns that would get hard to count communities involved. A collective of racial equity organizations including the NAACP and Race Forward have created a campaign called My Family Matters, My Family Counts to educate and mobilize communities around the country.
Local organizations are also thoughtfully engaging trusted community members to make sure everyone from Latinx to Asian Pacific Islanders feel comfortable and empowered in filling out the 2020 Census.
According to Vasquez, the Latinx community served by El Centro has been more aware and engaged in the census effort as compared to previous census years.
“I have heard from more people that they are more aware of it [the census] this year because there has been more Spanish speaking information around it. So that gives us a more positive outlook for it,” she said.
Even then, there is still work to be done to dispel persisting uncertainty around inclusion of the citizenship question says Vasquez. There are no questions about citizenship status on the census and any personal information required in the form cannot be shared outside the Census department by law. In other words, if the Census Bureau were to hand over any personal information to another agency, they would be going against the law.
Filling out the Census
Census Day is April 1st. By that date, every household would have received an invitation to fill out the census. Mailers and official invitations will begin being mailed out by March 12th. Organizations – like El Centro De La Raza – have personnel and workshops on hand to help people fill out the census. Census forms will be administered in 13 languages and can be accessed in three different ways.
1) By regular mail
2) Over the phone
Find additional information at www.2020census.gov.
Kamna Shastri is a writer and media maker from Seattle. Few things are more wonderful to her than learning about the histories, inspirations and dreams of the people with whom she crosses paths. Good conversation, a cup of spicy chai, and music are all she needs to make her world go around. Read more of her work at kamnashastri.wordpress.com.
Featured image by Denise-Marie Ordway