Make Your Quarantine Count: Why Now’s Your Chance to Do the 2020 Census and What You Need to Know

woman-works-on-computer-at-home-Sarah Pflug

This year’s Census campaign tagline Shape Your Future hits a little different when our present is faced with a pandemic that’s forced the bulk of the country inside for their health and safety. 

The coronavirus underscores why it’s so important that everyone gets counted during the 2020 Census. The more people get counted, the better accuracy the Census data has and the more federal funding available for your communities in times of need.

Social distance and Census, anyone?

“If we can’t use this at a time when our country’s in crisis as a tool to move forward, then what do we have?” asked Anita Banerji, director of Forefront’s Democracy Initiative. She shared that the pandemic has created the biggest challenge for the 2020 Census thus far, which had already been plagued by significant risks like understaffing and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. The first mailers for the 2020 Census arrived in Chicago homes in mid-March.

The Census Bureau aims to get a fair, complete and accurate count of every person living in the United States, but a study by the Bureau found that only 67 percent of people said it’s extremely likely that they’d fill it out. While it can be harder to galvanize people for the Census, think about this: The national average amount of federal dollars allocated for each person is around $1,800 a year. That’s more than $18,000 lost over a decade when just one person isn’t counted. 

That’s money that those communities—especially those that really need it—don’t receive.

Census 2020 infographic

Most everyone knows the Census basics: Your answers become data that’s used for federal funding and appropriation of Congressional seats. Those federal funds are used by state and local communities for healthcare and infrastructure. But a recent report from Pew Research Center showed there’s a lot of key Census details that most adults miss or are unsure of. (Only 25 percent of adults knew that religion is not asked on the Census questionnaire.) Let’s clear up some confusion.

The saga of the citizenship question is dead. Even though the Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question on the Census ended last July, the damage may have been done. Census community partners say educating the public and immigrant populations that there is no citizenship question is a top area of focus. 

Now, the Census does have a race problem, particularly for Latinx and Middle Eastern individuals. The five racial categories that are listed do not include viable options for Hispanics and people from the Middle East or North Africa, which therefore opens the data up to misuse and discrimination. Advocates proposed refining the race question during the Obama administration, but momentum stopped when the Bureau announced it would keep the same questions from the 2010 Census. Though it’s admittedly not the best solution, you can use the write-in option to make sure you’re represented accurately.

If you’ve been distrustful of the government since, I don’t know, its inception, then you might not be keen to send in a detailed list of everyone eating through all the quarantine snacks in your house. You should know that Census data is the most protected data the government creates, and identifiable information cannot be shared with anyone—not even law enforcement.  

You can, and should, fill out the 2020 Census online. Like, right now. You should have gotten a Census mailer with a unique code inside, but even without a code you can still head to my2020census.gov to complete the questionnaire. It takes less than 10 minutes to fill out, but it took me less than four minutes to complete it for my partner and myself. 

The added incentive to answer online, of course, is that a Census worker won’t show up at your door to record your response if it’s already done. The Census Bureau announced a halt to all field operations to help combat community spread of the virus, but there’s no word on what restrictions or protocols look like when and if they do show up.

 As civic duties go, the decennial Census ranks right up there with voting in terms of individual political power. Plus, you can do it online in less time than it takes to wait to vote at your nearest polling station. 

“This is the one issue that you rise and fall together on,” Banerji said. “When we’re all focused on our individual issues, it’s hard to think of what unifies us. We can’t focus our efforts without accurate data.

“This is our time to do it.”

Photo by Sarah Pflug

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Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas, and Rebellious Magazine's Special Projects Editor. She's also a cohost of the Feminist Erotica Podcast. As a writer-in-rebellion, Princess reviews graphic novels. She can be reached at princess.mcdowell@gmail.com