Every 10 years, and mandated by the US Constitution, the Census Bureau undertakes the huge task of counting every single resident in the country.
The information and findings that come out of this process, impact our nation in more ways than we can imagine. From deciding how many congressional seats a state gets (related to the number of residents in a state), to federal funding allocations (more than $800 billions) supporting schools, hospitals, infrastructure, social service programs, how the CDC plans for mitigating epidemics in population centers, etc; all the way to helping decide advertising and marketing budgets for corporations, decisions on new business locations, and just about anything you can think of.
In a few words, the census impacts how we live our lives and how we make decisions.
For us, as a grantmaking and community-led institution, census information is critical as we rely on its data to help identify and serve the needs of Latino families in the state and help Georgia grow in a more equitable manner.
The 2020 census brings many challenges, and one of the most significant is the inclusion of the “Citizenship Question”. We strongly believe this question will critically undermine efforts to achieve a fair and accurate count for a number of reasons:
- The question will discourage not only undocumented immigrants and their families from filling out their census forms—people who have always been included without distinction because the laws passed by Congress and the funds distributed by Congress affect everyone.
- There are also millions of legal residents and individuals living in mixed-status families who won’t fill out the form who out of fear of repercussions on family members
- Any person with any reason to avoid giving the government their name and address might also opt out of the census—including millions of young people in arrears on their student loans and millions of parents behind on their child support.
- In the political climate we live in, where ICE enforcement is rampant and there is fear in our immigrant communities, the possibility of data shared being used to create a register of citizens is seen as very real and would be enough to discourage individuals to answer.
Young, migrant and low-income children – especially young children in minority and immigrant families – have been one of the most undercounted groups in the decennial census for decades. An undercount of these households disadvantages their families, communities, and neighborhoods and diminishes their communities’ full voice in policymaking.
Specifically, in Georgia, the last decennial census mail return rates were around 70%, which lead us to believe that approximately 30% of children living in Georgia may have been undercounted in 2010. (CUNY Hard-to-Count 2010 Census Map)
Moreover, this question is expected to impose significant financial costs on the bureau and on organizations working to make this process a success. Also, the question has not been thoroughly tested due to lack of resources and budgeting issues. Adding this untested component to the tool will impair the quality of the 2020 census as a whole.
The results could well be disastrous. Missing tens of millions of people will have consequences that will reverberate across the country.
Already, more than a dozen lawsuits by individuals, cities and advocacy groups aiming at the removal of the question have been filed. Over 300 US philanthropic leaders (an unprecedented number across 38 states) have called for the same. Even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics’ Task Force on the 2020 Census issued a letter report yesterday and submitted it as a public comment. You can read the full letter here.
If all these complications weren’t enough to deal with, the 2020 census also faces a new and profound challenge. For the first time, the census will be online, disproportionally impacting low-income families that have limited or no access to technology and the internet. Additionally, as has been evidenced in the last months, our online systems and platforms could suffer from security threats.
What Are We Doing To Address These Issues?
As a grantmaking organization, we stand firmly against the inclusion of the citizenship question, have signed funders letters, submitted public comments to the Secretary of Commerce, and will continue to advocate in social media, and at any speaking opportunities on the issue. We are also glad to support the work of GALEO as leaders of the “Complete Count Committee” and we encourage everybody to do the same.
Because this is a time when we ALL need to work together to ensure all our families are counted; it is imperative we fund local grassroots organizations deeply embedded into our communities to provide technology access and operational support for educational purposes, education, and outreach.
We will be launching a dedicated fund to catalyze investments from individuals, philanthropic organizations and corporate foundations to be dispersed to the boots-on-the-ground working with families. The fund will support investments in technology so agencies can become hubs for the communities they trust, will provide stipends for educators and canvassers, so community members can discuss with families why the census is important and why their voices matter. Also, the fund will help underwrite the inclusion of census messaging and information in current ESL and civic programs organizations have.
Without a census, there is no American democracy; and democracy is not a spectator sport.
Comments? Questions? Email me: gigi@LCFGeorgia.org