By Beverly George,
“Get Out the Count!”
Sound familiar? This is the slogan for the national U.S. Census to be taken April 1, 2020. Preparation has already begun, and this Speak Out explains why a complete and accurate census is vital to our democracy.
If you’ve been following the news, last week U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ordered the Trump administration to stop its plan to add the citizenship question to the census form. The administration is asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal soon. In his ruling, Judge Furman admonished Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for not heeding the advice of career professionals who warned that adding the question would result in much lower counts in densely populated areas.
Has a citizenship question ever been used on past census forms?
According to “Fact Check: Has Citizenship Been A Standard Census Question?” by NPR’s Tamara Keith, the census has been conducted every decade since 1790 to get the required headcount for deciding the national distribution of congressional representation. Originally taken by U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Postal Service took on the task as population grew.
In 1950, there was a census question asking where each person was born followed by the statement, “If foreign born—is he naturalized?” In 1960, there was no question about citizenship (the follow-up question in 1950), but there was the question about place of birth. In 1970, the Census Bureau sent a short form to all households seeking basic population information. They also sent long forms to one-sixth of American households, asking questions ranging from household income to plumbing, so five out of six households did not receive the long form.
Questions about citizenship were included in the long form beginning in 1970, but not the short form. For example, in 2000, citizens who received the long form were asked, “Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?”
Later the census bureau added the American Community Survey, which is conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households. It asked many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question.
In 2010, the short form had no questions about citizenship. In 2020, there will be 11 questions on the census form. At this writing, there will be no citizenship question.
Responding to the U.S. Census is critical to maintain a robust democracy for several reasons, including the following.
- An accurate and complete survey of U.S. population distribution provides for accurate congressional districting and representation.
- An accurate and complete survey also determines how many Electoral College votes a state has. Like it or not, the Electoral College is still a part of the U.S. Constitution.
- When a state or district applies for SNAP funds or other government programs, accurate and complete survey data is essential to meet the needs of diverse, local populations.
For the first time, there are three ways to respond to the 2020 Census—paper form, on the web, or on your mobile phone.
If you’re wondering how homeless people are counted, there will be “boots on the ground” census takers with iPads to gather this data. There also will be census takers on reservations because many Native Americans don’t have individual mailing addresses by house number and street. Young people, ages 18-24 years old, are also labeled as hard to reach in the census count because they often don’t open their snail mail, nor do they read their email. In every case, the census wants to count once and count accurately where individuals reside on Census Day, April 1st, 2020.
Census data is protected (that is, not removed or erased) for 72 years for genealogy purposes, and the president, ICE, and the FBI will not have access to census data, according to Census Bureau representatives.
Illinois is a diverse state, and the census bureau plans to adapt to that. The online form will be available in 12 languages. Efforts are being made now to partner with trusted community groups to message the importance and the how-tos of taking part in the census. There will be heavy recruitment for these six-month jobs, which will pay between $13 and $21per hour. If you’re interested, visit https://www.census.gov/about/regions/chicago/jobs/all.html.
The Census window extends from March 16, 2020 through April 30, 2020, and the official Census Day is April 1st. The census has real impact on real people via representation, and government assistance to states for SNAP, ESL programs, and more. The goal is to count everyone once and accurately. With the guaranteed cacophony of primary election news breaking daily in early 2020, it’s important that we keep beating the U.S. Census drum loudly to #GetOutTheCount!
ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.