2020 Census: Everyone Counts
By NANCY PATRICK
Loneliness, a sense of isolation, shattered dreams, doubtful purpose, fear, boredom, insecurity—these feelings have affected most Americans even before the COVID-19 pandemic. We can multiply those feelings in the midst of a prolonged quarantine with its accompanying restrictions. Many people distrust authorities because some of the authorities disagree among themselves. All of this upheaval occurs while the U.S. Census Bureau attempts to gather census data for the 2020 count.
The bureau has attempted for months to obtain the needed information through various media including mail, internet, and phone. In spite of these efforts, a large percentage of those living in this country have failed to respond to the pleas. For this reason, the bureau hires many part-time personnel to go door-to-door to all the addresses that have not responded. These people, called enumerators, participate in extensive training before beginning the neighborhood searches.
I did my own census survey online. It took approximately ten minutes, and I felt comfortable answering the simple questions. If you haven’t sent in your census data and worry about the nature of questions and the reasons for the questions, you can see a sample at this website: https://2020census.gov/en/am-i-required.html. The site not only shows the questions but also explains each question’s purpose and use.
We live in a time of extremely different views on almost every social issue of importance. Depending on people’s views, their level of trust in the government will vary greatly. Many undocumented individuals fear discovery and deportation. The census data, private and confidential, will not be used for that purpose. All data remains within the agency which uses it to distribute services to the communities that qualify. Under-reporting will result in inadequate funding from many governmental and charitable organizations.
Groups at risk of low census participation include racial and ethnic minorities as well as lower socio-economic groups. Some of these people lack internet skills or move residences often. Statistics also show that rural areas report at a lower rate than urban ones. Many people across the United States, regardless of obvious factors, distrust the government at all levels.
Immigrants fear government interference much more than citizens. Those not proficient in English and born outside the United States fear that their data may go to other government bureaus that seek out undocumented people. They do not need to worry because census data has restricted uses and remains within the bureau. As a matter of fact, Census Bureau employees swear an oath to keep all information private or face a fine and jail time.
People will more likely participate if they realize the benefits derived from accurate census data. One of the most important benefits relates to the funding of public works such as hospitals, health care clinics, schools and other educational endeavors, roads, bridges, and emergency responses. Fewer people require less funding, so the government will not appropriate as much money for these lower population reports. The more accurate the count, the more money will be available to cover these important community services. In addition, census numbers determine the appropriate number of representatives for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, our current social climate has created such mistrust that people in any minority fear to claim their own personhood. I’ve had several instances in which I had to provide proof of my identity. Most of the agencies requiring this proof offer several options for evidence: passport, birth certificate, social security card, drivers licenses, marriage license, or other official documentation. I proudly have every single example of identity and have never feared anyone’s knowing who I am. Without fear, I’ve had two FBI background checks to qualify for certain positions.
I hope we can create an environment in which everyone—regardless of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or educational level—will agree to be counted. The census workers will not ask for identification from residents. We all benefit from accurate census data and need to trust the confidentiality of this particular process.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing