Graphic by Sam Papavasiliou

2020 Census: Raise Your Hand If You’re Here

Everything you might want to know about the 2020 census
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Everything you might want to know about the 2020 census

The United States Census Bureau has fulfilled the constitutional obligation to count every human in the country since 1790. Every home in the United States should have received an invitation to participate in the 24th United States census by April 1.

“The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation,” the Bureau’s website said.

The census is a measure of what’s going on in American communities. The data collected from the census helps communities determine where to build infrastructure, from schools and supermarkets to homes and hospitals. Beyond that, California District One (Humboldt County included) House Representative Jared Huffman said it’s a fundamental element of the United States.

“The significance of everyone participating goes so far beyond that,” Huffman said in an email through his spokesperson. “Having a complete picture of the people in communities across the country determines how folks are represented and makes sure everyone has a voice in the decisions their government makes. That’s the foundation of our democracy.”

In the past couple of years, the Trump administration tried to politicize the census as they pursued the addition of a citizenship question, but they failed. To be clear, there is no citizenship question on the 2020 census.

John Meyer, chair of the Humboldt State politics department, explained how an accurate census requires trust between the federal government and residents.

“The goal of the census was an accurate count of who residents are and where they live,” Meyer said. “The citizenship question discouraged that.”

“Students today are the most diverse demographic, and if you’re not counted, other resources will not follow.”

Nicola Walters

Meyer said answering the census should have no personal impact on respondent’s lives, and that there should be no arrests nor barriers to voting following a response. Meyer said immigrants from other countries, especially those with authoritarian, surveillance-heavy governments were often wary of answering the questions for fear of retaliation.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been politicized in the last few years, but the law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing information with law enforcement. The information is supposed to be kept strictly confidential.

“It is in the interest of powerless people to answer the census,” HSU American government lecturer Nicola Walters said. “Students today are the most diverse demographic, and if you’re not counted, other resources will not follow.”

Walters said she would have liked to see the citizenship question on the census. The census is a rare opportunity for scientists like her to collect data on the entire population, rather than just the samples she’s used to. Nonetheless, she is looking forward to the results of the 2020 census.

According to the Census Bureau’s website, many of the planned elements of getting a full count, including door to door interviews, will be postponed.

“The 2020 Census is underway and the most important thing you can do is respond online, by phone, or by mail when you receive your invitation,” the Census press kit said. “Responding now will minimize the need for the Census Bureau to send census takers out into communities to follow up.”

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