If you’re wondering if you should bother returning that 2020 Census form you received in the mail last month, we’re blogging to help convince you that you should—and quickly. It’s no understatement to say that many aspects of American life and society depend on Census data to function properly. Here are a few examples.
Democracy Runs on Census Data
If you live in the United States of America, you have a right—indeed, an obligation—to be counted by the 2020 Census. This right is granted regardless of age, gender, race, religion or even status as a U.S. citizen—yes, even if you’re a noncitizen, U.S. Census takers are required by the Constitution to count you if you live here.
The U.S. founding fathers planned their new country—“the last great experiment for promoting human happiness”—as a representative democracy. This form of government is designed to give everyone who lives under that government’s authority a say in its running and decision making. At the time of our country’s founding, the founders created and designed the U.S. House of Representatives to provide this representative voice for all who live in the United States.
The founding fathers were deeply committed to creating a fair representative democracy and designed representation in the House to be allotted according to the number of residents in each district and each state. Basically, the more people living in a district and in a state, the greater the number of representatives appointed in the House to serve as their voice in government. However, the total number of representatives in the House has at been fixed at 435 members since 1911. According to current law, regardless of any demographic shifts or changes between districts and states from one census to the next, no new representatives can be added to the House.
Instead, every ten years, following the U.S. Census, seats in the House of Representatives are “reapportioned” according to population sizes. Although no new representatives can be added to the House following a census, a district can still gain seats if its population increased significantly following the Census count. Since no new representatives can be added to the House, gains in representation for one district/state must come at the expense of another district/state (no state can have less than one representative). It’s important to note, too, that state governments also define and redefine State House districts based on Census data.
For U.S. democracy to work as intended, 2020 Census counts should be as accurate as possible. If a House district is undercounted, it could unfairly lose representatives. Realizing the importance of knowing population numbers, the Founding Fathers wrote a requirement into the Constitution that a new census must be conducted every 10 years. This is one reason why being counted in the 2020 Census isn’t merely a right, but also an obligation.
Not convinced how important it is for you and your family to be counted in the 2020 U.S. Census? Consider the following questions:
Do Your Kids Attend Public School? Private School?
If you have kids attending a public school—including any post-secondary institution—it’s important that your family be accurately counted. Federal, state and local governments use Census data in allocating educational funds to individual schools and to districts and to help determine who’s eligible for specific programs, subsidies and grants. And while private schools generally don’t receive public funds directly from federal or state government, they can be eligible for certain funding directly from their districts. Each district decides what funds—if any—can be allocated to such schools, often based on Census data.
Do You Use Public Highways? Public Transit?
If you use a car on a public roadway, it’s important to understand that Census data is routinely used to determine appropriate funding for highway improvement and expansion projects. If you use public transit such as buses and rail, you need to know that Census data helps local officials determine how many routes/buses to put in service, what destinations require greater focus and more. Census data helps federal and state governments, meanwhile, determine how much funding to allocate to cities and jurisdictions for public transit.
Have Your Ever Experienced a Natural Disaster?
If you and your family live in an area susceptible to hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, flooding or other natural disaster, accurate Census data could mean the difference between adequate recovery funding from FEMA and HUD or funding—and recovery efforts—that fall woefully short.
Ever Used Medicare? Social Security?
If you’re on Medicare or Social Security, are nearing the age where you’ll begin using these programs or have ever used them for any other reason, you need to know that Census data helps drive the allocation of money for these government-funded programs. Undercounts in the 2020 Census could, potentially, deprive your area of funding for certain aspects of these programs.
Have Your Ever Gone on Unemployment Insurance?
If you’ve ever lost a job and claimed unemployment benefits, you know what a lifeline these funds can be while you look for work. Imagine not getting as much unemployment money as you could because you live in an area that was undercounted during the Census. It’s possible, but it’s also avoidable if every U.S. resident takes the census seriously.
Do You Have Kids Who’ll Start College in the Next 10 Years?
Census numbers also factor into government distribution of financial aid for college loans, grants and other aid. College and universities around the country, along with organizations that award scholarships use Census data to help decide how such funds will be allocated, to whom and where. Want your child to pay as little as possible for a college education? Make sure the 2020 Census counts your family.
Community Planning, U.S. Business and the 2020 Census
Government-funded programs and democracy aren’t the only American institutions that depend on Census data. Community organizations often use the numbers to help in developing social service and community action programs, while American business uses Census counts in deciding where to locate new factories and retail outlets. Census numbers can even help communities manage traffic congestion and school overcrowding. School- and tax-district lines are generally based on census data, too. Some local governments use the data to draw 911 districts and to predict the spread of diseases through specific communities and populations.
$675 Billion in Census-based Funding
Every year, the U.S. government allocates and distributes roughly $675 billion to state and local governments to help fund programs and initiatives such as those mentioned above and more. That’s a lot of money, and it’s why so much time and effort is expended every 10 years in the U.S. to get the numbers right.
Getting Counted the First Time is Less Expensive for Everyone
Although the Census is free, American tax dollars pay for it. Anyone who fails to respond to initial requests for Census info costs taxpayers even more. How? Census takers don’t give up easily—it’s their job. If you don’t answer and return the first round of Census questions that come in the mail, expect multiple phone calls. These calls represent additional time and paid hours, the cost of which is covered by taxpayers. If you don’t respond to Census-taker calls, the government will send Census agents to your home to interview you and your family in person—an even greater expense in time and labor.
The easiest solution is to make sure you and your family get counted. When your Census form comes in the mail, complete it as accurately and promptly as possible. Being undercounted can cause undue hardships on not only you and your family, but also to your community—nobody wants that.
The 2020 Census: New Options for Being Counted
Since 1790, the U.S. census has been conducted 22 times, with 2020 being the 23rd. This year’s public counting will mark the first time respondents may complete the census online (my2020census.gov). The 2020 Census will also be the first with a toll-free phone number people can call to answer the questions (1-844-330-2020). These options make it easier than ever to make sure you and you’re family are counted.
The Census documents you received in the mail include a “Census ID,” which you can you use to log in at my2020census.gov to complete the 2020 Census questions related to your household. To complete your 2020 Census questions over the phone or for assistance, call 1-844-330-2020