It only happens once every ten years and it is one year away. April 1 is the one year out milestone for the 2020 Census. We will be inundated in the next 12 months with messages from the Census Bureau about how important it is for every American to be counted. There will be a major media blitz reminding us of the repercussions if we don’t do as we’re told. There is even a monetary penalty for not participating and every envelope says, “Your response is required by law,” but that won’t make us want to fill out our census forms. I’ll fill mine out because I’ll want to know what the numbers are for my community. I’ll want to know if we count.
Humans, by their very nature, love to count things. How many quarters do we have? How many steps does it take to get to the bathroom? The “how many?” question looms. There is even a disease called arithmomania, a disorder in which individuals have a strong need to count their actions or objects in their surroundings.
Filling out your census form is hardly obsessive behavior, yet so many of us are somewhat annoyed by it. We shouldn’t be. Knowing how many Americans there are and where they are is important to our society for things like funding of federal and state programs, congressional representation, and information about data like sex and race. A census ensures that we are represented in many important ways.
You may feel the census is intrusive. Why does the government need to know so much about us? What difference does it make if we’re White, Black, or somewhere in-between? Did our forefathers really care how many toilets our homes have? Is it anyone’s business? I remember a man telling me, “I’ll tell them where I live and that’s all they get!” Maybe you’re one of these people, but I implore you to get past the fear and fill in your 2020 census when it arrives. There is an old adage “We count people because people count.”
Doubt in government is at an all-time high. We just don’t trust Washington, but is that a good enough reason to not be counted? Now a citizenship question is being debated, which if included, will cause even more distrust. That will lead to more and more people not filling out their forms. The Supreme Court will weigh in on this question soon. People bring up privacy concerns with every census, but census data are processed to obscure individual information.
Data are important. We fill out surveys and take quizzes. Buy anything on the internet and you’ll be almost assured of some kind of customer satisfaction survey that ask for our age, sex, and race. This is how companies truly understand the wants and needs of their customer base. Data show how we relate to others. We use data to make decisions about where we live, work, go to school, or play. Data can be extremely complex or simple. How you ask a question can lead to different answers. Data collection is a science and an art. Even though I’ve had my issues with them over the years, the Census Bureau does a good job of figuring out who makes up America. I’m not a researcher, I’m an average person (maybe statistically so) who has a need to be able to put information in perspective. Accurate data helps me do so.
We expect to see demographics reflected in news stories, whether by percentages or pie charts, we want to know the make-up of the people in a story, we may glaze over some of it, but we anticipate it. We should therefore be willing to supply it. Most of the data we see comes from the United States Census Bureau and they take their numbers from your census forms. Organizations like Pew Research also supply us with numbers that we see reflected around us every day. This will be the first census where we may be able to go online to fill out our forms because technology has advanced us to this new place. An enumerator could still be sent to your home if you don’t comply. It’s up to us to ensure there is not an over count or undercount in our neighborhood.
My organization advocates for the multiracial population, the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in America. I know that because the Census Bureau told me. We have only been included on the census since 2000 and only because we fought very hard for the right through the 1990s. The Census Bureau calls us “two or more races” people. It’s important for biracial and multiracial individuals to check as many boxes as necessary to make up their entire racial and ethnic heritage so that we can be counted by the Bureau in our entirety. We need to show that our numbers are large enough to be an important force to be reckoned with by retailers, organizations, and politicians. We fought for the right to be counted, so let’s go all in. We only have a year to get ready.