Every 10 years, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the government conducts the census in an effort to count every person living in the country. As the 2020 election draws nearer, it’s more imperative than ever that the census accurately reflects the demographics of the United States.
Filling out the census isn’t a brush-it-off affair: Results from the census heavily inform funding for a number of critical social programs, including education and transportation. As Erin Steffen, the city of Berkeley’s assistant to the city manager, previously told The Daily Californian, undercounting — which inevitably occurs when people do not report their information during the census — could result in a loss of about $1,000 per person over a period of 10 years. That could translate into reduced funding for local institutions, such as local hospitals, which already struggle to keep afloat amid rising health care costs.
From a political perspective, census results have an impact on redistricting, which in turn impacts the number of representatives a state has in Congress, and consequently, a state’s total electoral college votes. In order for our representatives to glean an idea of who it is that they represent, it’s important that census data shows who composes a constituency. And now that the census is going to be offered online for the first time, it should be a lot more accessible to more populations.
To make it easier for hard-to-count populations to be accurately represented, California is allocating a whopping $187.2 million toward outreach efforts and communication about the census. These populations include homeless people and renters, but also students, to a degree. Information from the census, especially about hard-to-count populations, informs a variety of sociological studies that are geared toward identifying immediate needs and uplifting those groups. To put it simply, help yourself by filling out the census.
Admittedly, the census has a rather dark history. In its 230 year history, the census has undergone several changes, many related to race and power. The first census separated respondents not only by race, but also by slave status. Additional changes since then attempted to classify respondents’ African ancestry — information that was then used to limit the rights given to Black citizens in the United States.
When the Trump administration announced that it would put a question about citizenship status on the census, civil rights advocates were concerned that immigrants and undocumented individuals would shy away from responding out of the fear that their information might be used against them by law enforcement. Even though there is no longer a citizenship question on the census, it’s valid to assume that the prospect of filling out the census is still daunting for those individuals. But the fact of the matter is, filling out the census will ultimately help the government determine what communities need financial assistance.
So in the lead up to March — when the United States Census Bureau is expected to send postcards about the census to each household — educate yourself about the benefits of filling out the census. While it might not be the most exciting aspect of the political landscape, it provides invaluable support to many communities that need it.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.