The Census is The Most Overlooked Civil Rights Issue of Our Day
By Karen Ford / Director of Communications The Pride Center of New Jersey
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every ten years, everyone in the country must be counted. EVERYONE. The Census does not care what language you speak, where you were born or how you live. It only wants to know that you live here now. As a civil rights issue, it is not a particularly exciting one, which is perhaps why it is often overlooked. It is a mundane form that asks who you are and who lives with you… and then it gets interesting. That information is compiled and transformed into data that dictates where billions of dollars are spent in your community.
The Census is about money.
Your Census information helps allocate $675 billion nationally. For New Jersey that amounts to roughly a $45 billion allocation by the Federal Government. These funds go to support programs and services that directly impact all of us through in health care, education, housing, food and income security, roads, emergency preparedness, and host of other essential services. These are programs that impact our everyday lives.
The Census is about power.
The Census determines how many representatives each state has in Congress. New Jersey has lost three seats due to undercounts and shifting population since 1980, and we are now in danger of losing yet another seat. Fewer seats mean less influence in government.
This political power is not just allocated at the federal level. Decisions that impact all of us are made by state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofits. These include the number of doctors and nurses and other emergency services that are needed at any given time in your neighborhood. Census data is being used at this very moment to allocate where funds and resources go to fight the Coronavirus.
Census issues contribute to increasing inequity.
In nearly every Census there are undercounts of marginalized communities including low-income people, people of color, and very young children. According to reports by the Census Bureau, the 2010 Census undercounted renters, black and Hispanic populations, American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as men 18 to 29 and 30 to 49. Conversely, the non-Hispanic white population was overcounted.
Both counted, and over counted communities end up with a bigger piece of the pie than undercounted ones because there are only so many finite resources to go around. These disparities contribute to the ever-growing inequity in the United States. The 2020 Census shows a similar track. Hunterdon County, for example, has a 4.4% poverty rate and is currently leading NJ with a nearly 74% Census self-response rate. New Brunswick, with a 34.2% poverty rate, has a self-response rate of 40.7%.
Shortcomings of the Census for the LGBTQ community– it isn’t perfect.
The 2020 Census is historic because, for the first time ever, same-sex couples are counted in the Census. Data will only be collected on same-sex couples living together, so it will not be representative of the entire community. There are no questions regarding gender identity. But just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Information about the number of same-sex couples that are raising children, the geography of where same-sex couples live, and their race and ethnicity, will all inform policy.
This data is critical to the LGBTQ population where it is estimated that 20% of all same-sex households rely on SNAP funding to feed their families. Funding for public housing, Medicaid, HIV programs and homelessness assistance programs is derived from Census data. These are programs LGBTQ populations disproportionately utilize.
Think you don’t matter? Think again.
In the Census, everyone counts, and each person not counted is a loss for the community. For every individual who does not participate in the 2020 Census, that represents roughly $2,000 in funding a year, so for the 10 years between each Census, that amounts to about $20,000 that the government does not reallocate back to your city or town. That adds up to millions of dollars in losses.
Is my information safe?
Members of vulnerable communities such as immigrants or LGBTQ+ may be wary of responding to the Census for fear of their immigration status, concern about legal reprisal, or a fear of government in general. However, “By law, your census responses cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way—not by the FBI, not by the CIA, not by DHS, and not by ICE.” (Census.gov)
There is still time to fill it out!
Enumerators will begin in-person interviews on July 30. You can avoid having someone knock on your door by filling it out online today at 2020census.govor by phone in English: 844-330-2020; Spanish: 844-468-2020or in one of 15 other languages.