Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Once a decade the government embarks on a simple task: a count of every single person in the United States. Yet, simple does not mean easy, and a seemingly apolitical event has become a complex power struggle that will influence our country until at least 2030.
Mandated by the Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, every home in America will receive an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire — online, by phone, or by mail — between March 12-20.
About $1.5 trillion a year is at stake, with federal funding going to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources based on the results. The census also determines the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and information gathered is used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.
As funding and legislative power is on the line, disinformation aroud the census has spread. Speculation about cybersecurity and personal information abounds. Adding to the uncertainty was a pending citizenship question that was ultimately removed. Experts feared it would discourage response rates among noncitizens and Latinos.
The coronavirus has only complicated the already herculean task even further. The bureau has decided to delay starting its early round of door-knocking by census workers in college towns until late April, and is also waiting until April, instead of March, to begin its outreach effort to send out representatives with computer tablets to help people submit their census responses online.
We discuss why the census matters, how to participate, and how the results will shape the coming decade.
Dena Diorio, Mecklenburg County manager
Lizette Escobodo, national census director of National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund
Brendan Shanahan, postdoctoral associate at Yale University and scholar of U.S. immigration and citizenship history. Recently published article in the Washington Post, "Counting everyone - citizens and non-citizens - in the 2020 census is crucial"