In just one year, the US government will fulfill its once-a-decade duty to count every American. April 1, 2020 is Census Day.
Armed with a $15 billion budget, the Census Bureau will aim to gather a few key facts about all residents: location, age, race/ethnicity, home ownership, and household members. For the first time, the agency will try to collect most responses online, with the remainder by mail or, as needed, in person. The Census Bureau is legally prohibited from sharing any personal data collected through the census with anyone, including other federal agencies and law enforcement.
Why is this important?
First, the census is the sole means to determine how many of the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives are allocated to each state. California currently has 53 seats, and would expect to retain that number after the census. However, if the census is poorly conducted in California and misses many hard-to-reach inhabitants, then the state could wind up losing a seat – and some of our influence – in Congress.
The population counts developed in the census also determine how federal agencies will allocate huge amounts of federal appropriations. In 2016, California received $115 billion in federal funds that were dependent on the state’s population count.
What is the risk of undercounting our residents?
California is uniquely vulnerable to a poorly executed census. The vast majority of Californians belong to groups that historically have been undercounted, such as renters, young men, African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, occupants of nonstandard housing, and homeless. In addition, many advocates and public officials are concerned that the proposed addition of a question on citizenship status may discourage immigrants from participating in the census.
Employers will play an important role to encourage their employees to participate in the census.
As trusted leaders, employers have credibility to urge their employees to complete the official census questionnaire by highlighting the importance of an accurate census count to their communities, as well as emphasizing the security of the information they share with the Census Bureau.
The census is conducted only once every 10 years, but it is critical for our democratic representation, fair allocation of federal funds, and to gain insight as to who we are as a state and nation.