by Brad Brown
People are at home. People are wondering what to do. How about filling out your 2020 Census.
Two hundred and thirty years ago and only three years into a new Constitutional government, the Congress of the United States passed the First Census Act. The Constitution itself needed to know what the population was in order to divvy up representation in Congress. The act then passed empowered the federal government to perform an “actual Enumeration” of the American population.
Ironically, this was one of the last pieces of legislation is the original capital of this young country: New York City. And, now, New York has become a COVID-19 “hot spot” that puts this decennial effort at risk.
The U.S. Commerce Department manages the census through the Census Bureau. The Coronavirus pandemic has made much of the bureau’s enumeration process … well, uh — difficult?
In 1790 and each 10 years following until 1870, the Office of the United States Marshall had responsibility for gathering census information.
Enter the paid door-to-door census taker. We may have hit a great pivot point in census history as the Census Bureau has halted all in-person census taking. According to Michael Cook, chief of the bureau’s Public Information Office, they will “continue to assess all of our operations to see if there are any changes that need to be made.” Which so far has included the cancellation of in-person census surveys.
Actual counting began on January 1 with rural native villages in Alaska. On March 10 the bureau went live with its public questionnaire web site where any household can log on and enter their personal for the 2020 Census. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. households have reported at the Bureau’s online portal at 2020census.gov.
Other census data sources — 500,000 census taker workforce face-to-face interviews, mail-in questionnaires, a nationwide homeless count have been suspended, curtailed or slowed, according to Stephen Buckner of the Bureau.
Answering the 2020 Census online has been and will be the most productive option.
The Census Bureau has made an all-out effort to publicize online self-enumeration. “By doing so you’re really helping your community in terms of understanding the needs that it has over the next course of the decade,” the Bureau’s Assistant Director for Communications Stephen Buckner said.
Terri Ann Lowenthal, an accurate census activist, noted that ten years ago the census missed about 16 million people with minorities and young children most undercounted and non-Hispanic whites overcounted.
“A successful census is one that counts all communities equally well,” Lowenthal said. “With the challenges the coronavirus is presenting, I’m worried about the consistency of census operations and level of effort across states and communities. And that is a fundamental factor in evaluating not only whether the census is acceptably accurate — but whether it is fair.”
“We’re laser-focused on the statute’s Dec. 31 deadline for apportionment counts and population counts,” Cook noted.
So, if you’re at home and need something to do for you, your community and your country, head to 2020census.gov to fill out your questionnaire.