Why the Census is Important

This week we’re taking a break from our climate change content in our blogs—but we still have an excellent episode for you to listen to! You can check out our interview with nuclear power advocate and Professor Joshua Goldstein right here:

This week, we’re talking about one of the critical parts of our democracy: the US Census. 2020 has brought its fair share of surprises for us, but our decennial Census was not one of them. We’ll take a quick look at why we need the Census and what it provides for America. If you want more info, make sure to check out our interview with Ashely Allison, which you can find below!

The first US Census hit the record books in 1790 to fulfill the requirements set down in the brand new Constitution of the United States. Article 1, Section 2, provides Congress the legal authority to conduct a census and stipulates a new count be held every ten years into perpetuity. This, as the Census Bureau’s website notes, “marked a turning point in world history. Previously censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service. The genius of the Founders was taking a tool of government and making it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.”

Fast-forward 230 years, and we’re completing our 23rd Census, pandemic-style. Why is the Census so vital that we can’t postpone it even as states around the union are reeling from the devastating effects of a disease with no known cure and a potential death toll in the hundreds of thousands?

Congressional Appointment

The biggest reason for conducting a Census every decade is the House of Representatives. Those 435 delegates get allocated based on population, and to allot each state the correct number of representatives, the Federal Government needs to know how many people live in each state. The Census measures the ebbs and flows of the national population, and Congressional Representatives are allocated based on that movement. For instance, models predict Florida and North Carolina will likely see new congressional districts after this year’s Census.

Here is a great video from the Census website breaking down how appointments work:

Federal Funding

Apart from governing who governs us, the Census also dictates how states get paid. States receive almost $900 billion of government aid every year, which is divided by population. To understand which states need more or less money, the government uses the Census. The population count dictates funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), highway infrastructure, and a myriad of other critical programs. The Census also indexes statistics like education and income, allowing resources to find those Americans who need them most.

The Private Sector

The Census data is available for anyone to look at, and the private sector understands it as one of the essential datasets available to them. The population data can give businesses a better idea of where new customer-bases are, how to allocate resources, and where to open or close retail locations or manufacturing facilities. Our economy depends on these businesses, and they, in turn, depend on the data provided by the Census.  

The 2020 Census

This year, you can fill the Census out online or use the copy sent to your home. Filling out the Census isn’t just another way to be civically engaged—it’s the law. In 2018, the Trump Administration announced plans to add a citizenship question to the national survey, a move that prompted a harsh backlash. Experts worried the citizenship question would cause an under-counting in America, which would have wide-ranging consequences to communities with a lot of immigrants. After the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s reason for adding the question in June 2019, it abandoned its efforts. There is no citizenship question on the Census this year.

With the nation in lockdown and the prospect of returning to normal life still months away, now is the time to do your civic duty and fill out the 2020 US Census.

WORKS CITED

Baumgaertner, Jim Tankersley and Emily. “Here’s Why an Accurate Census Count Is So Important.” The New York Times, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com./2018/03/27/us/politics/census-citizenship-question.html.

Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Leaves Census Question on Citizenship in Doubt.” The New York Times, The New York Times,
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/us/politics/census-citizenship-question-supreme-court.html?searchResultPosition=4

Siddiqui, Sabrina, and Tom McCarthy. “Trump Abandons Effort to Put Citizenship Question on 2020 Census.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 July 2019, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/11/trump-census-citizenship-question-supreme-court.

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. I, Sec. 2. https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/Article_1_Section_2.pdf

“Understanding the Census Citizenship Question Debate.” TBF, www.tbf.org/blog/2018/march/understanding-the-census-citizenship-question-debate.

US Census Bureau. “2020 Census: United States Census Bureau.” 2020Census.Gov, 2020census.gov/en.html.

US Census Bureau. “Census in the Constitution.” The United States Census Bureau, 31 Mar. 2020, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/about/census-constitution.html.

US Census Bureau. “Congressional Apportionment.” The United States Census Bureau, 1 Apr. 2020, www.census.gov/topics/public-sector/congressional-apportionment.html.

US Census Bureau. “Uses of Census Bureau Data in Federal Funds Distribution.” The United States Census Bureau, 11 Oct. 2017, www.census.gov/library/working-papers/2017/decennial/census-data-federal-funds.html.

US Census Bureau. “Who Is Required To Respond?” 2020Census.Gov, 2020census.gov/en/am-i-required.html.

Wallace, Gregory. “Projection Shows Florida and North Carolina among States That Could Gain Congressional Seats after Census.” CNN, Cable News Network, 31 Dec. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/12/31/politics/census-2020-apportionment/index.html.

“Why Does the Census Matter?” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/why-does-census-matter.

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