The pandemic has had a terrible byproduct that just now is grabbing attention. It has thrown a huge wrench into the collecting of data for the U.S. census. Who cares, you ask? Well, we should all care. At the end of this month, the U.S. Census Bureau will stop its once-in-a-decade count of people living in America, and there are good reasons to think that the results will be at best incomplete — and at worst a miscount that will adversely affect American politics and government for the next decade.
“It has a pretty good chance of being the least accurate” census in modern memory, said William H. Frey, a University of Michigan demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a recent Politico article. “This may be enough of a brush with catastrophe that people will realize we don’t want to get this close to it again.”
How important is the census information? A census — mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted every 10 years since 1790 — provides a snapshot of our nation. It tells us who we are ethnically and economically, where we live, and so much more. Over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners, and many others will use the data to make critical decisions. The results will show where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads and more services for families, older adults and children. The results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year.
And the results determine how many seats in Congress each state gets. Yes. It determines how much your community voice will be heard in Washington, D.C.
Did you know that census data helps communities respond to natural disasters and secure funding for hospitals and fire departments? That it helps with planning everything from highways to school lunch programs to teacher and special-education grants? The results determine how money is allocated for the Head Start program, programs to support rural areas, to restore wildlife, to prevent child abuse, to prepare for wildfires and to provide housing assistance for older adults. Census results influence grants for buses, subways and other public transit systems.
Census results affect planning and funding for health care — including programs such as Medicaid, Medicare Part B, State Children’s Health Insurance and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
OK, you get the idea. And if you have already filled out your census form, bravo! As of July 14, the national response rate was 62.1% or 91,800,000 households. To make it easier to be counted, every household has the option to fill out the census online at 2020census.gov. It takes 10 minutes. Literally 10 minutes to ensure your voice is heard, your community is represented and the health and welfare of society is maintained at an appropriate rate.
Ohio’s response as of Thursday was not at the bottom of the 50 states (that honor goes to Alabama), but we can do better. Our response rate is 92.4%, compared to 98.9% in Idaho, 98.4% in West Virginia, 97.2% in both Washington and Hawaii and 96.3% in Maine.
Again, find 10 minutes and go to 2020census.gov before the end of the month. It matters more than you know.