Importance of the Census | Guest Column

by Brad Brown

Special to the Sounder

There is a commercial on TV where a woman with one of those door camera security devices is challenging a man who has shown up at her front door with a clipboard in hand. She tells him to go away because her neighbors had warned her that he was a scammer.

There are many in our country who hope this scenario doesn’t play out when the census takers come to America’s collective door, and there are those who hope this is exactly what happens for the 2020 Census. Undercounting is the term for a less than full enumeration of United States residents.

When President Trump pushed for a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, civil rights groups across the country felt it would have a chilling effect on responses and they fought the president’s effort in court, finally succeeding — in the U.S. Supreme Court — in having that question removed

UCLA political scientist Matt Barreto, an expert in Voting Rights, Racial and Ethnic Politics, Electoral Politics, Public Opinion and Immigration, conducted a survey which found that there was “profound distrust about whether any citizenship information in the census would be kept private” among all those surveyed, not merely immigrants or Latinx people. Two-thirds of those groups feel that the Trump administration would not protect personal information.

Barreto’s filing with the court state: “[A] critical component to ensure an accurate response rate on any survey, including the census, is trust between the public and the survey administrator. Without a high degree of trust, the prior published studies conclude that response rates will fall.”

The United States Census is used to determine the number of representatives each state sends to Congress, to calculate federal financial contributions to state and local government, and to create housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy. An undercount would harm these supports

Although every resident in the United States is required to respond truthfully to the U.S. Census as well as the on-going, more detailed American Community Survey (ACS), and fines up to $5,000 can be assessed for non-participation, there have been no prosecutions since 1970. In fact, only three convictions have ever been obtained in the 240-year history of the Census, according to a Commerce Department spokesperson.

Participation in the U.S. Census can be considered a civic responsibility. But what can be said to those who fear that their lives may be upended if the government has personal information about them?

First, get educated about the U.S. Census and relay that information to friends and neighbors. Reassure them that the 2020 Census is not a threat – since personal information does not get shared – and is, in fact, a benefit to our community through representation and funding.

There are a number of national organizations supporting a “full and fair count” in the 2020 Census. Those include Forward Together, The Census Counts, The Census Project, CensusOutreach, and Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation.

#WeCount and #2020Census are tags used for Twitter discussions. Then, because the 2020 Census is initially sent out by mail, if you know someone who is having a hard time understanding the survey, or is hesitant to fill it out, consider doing what is allowed in voting booths and ”facilitate” their participation by aiding them by explaining the forms and clarifying any confusion they may have.

For those in the San Juans who want to be active in the local 2020 Census count movement, contact Brown at