Five Reasons to Complete the 2020 Census (and Encourage Others to Do the Same)

Posted February 20, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young children in a classroom

Every 10 years, the U.S. cen­sus gen­er­ates a crit­i­cal snap­shot of America.

It is the only sur­vey that asks every sin­gle house­hold in the nation to respond, and this gives us the best pic­ture we have of the nation’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion, says Flo­ren­cia Gutier­rez, a senior research asso­ciate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Below are five rea­sons why the U.S. cen­sus mat­ters more than you think, and why you should encour­age every­one you know in the nation to par­tic­i­pate before the sur­vey clos­es on July 312020.

1. The cen­sus deter­mines where resources go — and don’t go.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers use cen­sus data — both the total pop­u­la­tion count and pop­u­la­tion char­ac­ter­is­tics — to allo­cate about 1.5 tril­lion fed­er­al dol­lars to the states. These funds fuel more than 300 pro­grams, such as Head Start, Med­ic­aid and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram. A cen­sus under­count would leave these pro­grams under­fund­ed — and unable to meet the needs of kids, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across the nation.

2. The cen­sus impacts polit­i­cal pull.

In the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, each state’s pop­u­la­tion count informs its seat count. The gov­ern­ment relies on decen­ni­al cen­sus data — more specif­i­cal­ly, the total num­ber of cit­i­zens, nonci­t­i­zens and over­seas fed­er­al employ­ees in each state — to divvy up these seats and ensure a fair appor­tion­ing of polit­i­cal pow­er among all 50 states.

Cen­sus data also shape the polit­i­cal land­scape with­in states by inform­ing the bound­aries of local school, vot­ing and leg­isla­tive districts.

3. The cen­sus helps com­mu­ni­ties plan for the future.

Com­mu­ni­ties — city plan­ners, busi­ness­es, real estate devel­op­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers — review cen­sus data to bet­ter under­stand the needs of local res­i­dents and neigh­bor­hoods. Lead­ers then use this infor­ma­tion to plot how and where their com­mu­ni­ties must evolve. The result­ing changes are wide-rang­ing — from new schools and bet­ter busi­ness incen­tives to extra bus routes and pub­lic safe­ty improve­ments. Flawed cen­sus data, on the oth­er hand, can have real and last­ing con­se­quences, such as over­crowd­ed class­rooms, unsafe roads and over­flow­ing emer­gency rooms.

4. The cen­sus is the sta­tis­ti­cal foun­da­tion of Casey’s KIDS COUNT efforts.

Casey’s KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter and annu­al Data Book are pow­er­ful deci­sion-mak­ing tools for pol­i­cy­mak­ers, child and fam­i­ly advo­cates, non­prof­its and edu­ca­tors. Both prod­ucts track five key areas of child well-being: 1) eco­nom­ic well-being; 2) health; 3) safe­ty; 4) fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty; and 5) edu­ca­tion. These five areas are large­ly defined by sta­tis­tics direct­ly derived from cen­sus data or cal­cu­lat­ed using cen­sus data.

The Casey Foun­da­tion then uses this infor­ma­tion to iden­ti­fy seri­ous inequities and advo­cate for change. For instance: An accu­rate cen­sus count enables Casey to enforce civ­il rights laws in areas such as edu­ca­tion, hous­ing, the work­place and crim­i­nal jus­tice and to ensure that com­mu­ni­ties secure — or gain back — the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and voice that they deserve.

5. The cen­sus informs oth­er research efforts.

A num­ber of fed­er­al sur­veys rely on cen­sus data. These include the Amer­i­can Com­mu­ni­ty Sur­vey, Cur­rent Pop­u­la­tion Sur­vey, Con­sumer Expen­di­ture Sur­vey, Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion­al Sta­tis­tics and Nation­al Cen­ter for Health Statistics.

Con­se­quent­ly, a num­ber of fed­er­al­ly pro­duced sta­tis­tics also rely on cen­sus data, includ­ing nation­al unem­ploy­ment and crime rates, births, deaths, school per­for­mance mea­sures and Con­sumer Price Index calculations.

The Casey Foun­da­tion will be spend­ing the next sev­er­al months — through Cen­sus Day on April 1, 2020, and beyond — urg­ing every house­hold to turn in their cen­sus form.

Achiev­ing an accu­rate 2020 cen­sus count should be a pri­or­i­ty for every­one,” says Lisa Hamil­ton, the Casey Foundation’s pres­i­dent and CEO. These data are key to track­ing our progress and guid­ing our research on child well-being. They help our com­mu­ni­ties receive the resources and rep­re­sen­ta­tion they deserve. And, just as impor­tant, they help our chil­dren get the foun­da­tion that they need to be suc­cess­ful in school and in life.”

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