By Rosa Mendoza, President and CEO, ALLvanza
The time has come to be counted. The U.S. Census Bureau will soon begin collecting data about everyone living in the United States, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, based on the directive from the Constitution to do so every ten years. With regard to the census, the worst thing that already underserved communities can do is to not be counted. It is crucial for everyone living in the U.S. to know how to complete the census and why it is important to complete it. Furthermore, with the census going online, it is another in a long list of reasons why underserved communities need to be counted and provided with equal broadband resources.
The impact of deciding to complete or not complete the census:
There are several factors that make the census extremely important, especially for underserved communities. First, the data collected as a part of the census is used to determine the dispersal of approximately $880 billion dollars to local communities that funds schools, roads, and other public projects. Additionally, the census informs the number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes for given areas. And if that is not enough, businesses can use census data to determine how to best serve demand, whether that be stores, banks, etc. Furthermore, the census at its core is a record of everyone living in the U.S.; without being counted, underserved communities run the risk of being excluded from the records of our nation. With all this and more at stake, it is essential that everyone be counted accurately to ensure that political, commercial and other resources are allocated appropriately.
Because filling out the census and getting accurate data is so important, the Census Bureau has spent significant time and resources researching and analyzing what they refer to as Hard to Count (HTC) communities. They found that children, homeless people, those with lower income and education, those who do not speak English as a first language, undocumented immigrants, and generally those in racial/ethnic minority communities are missed by the census at a disproportionately high rate. Given that these groups are less likely to be counted, it is imperative that the Census Bureau continue to work hard to reach these groups by any means at their disposal, to ensure the most accurate census possible.
Why it matters that the census is moving online:
Given the importance of the census, it is essential that everyone understands how to complete it. The 2020 census will provide three main ways to provide responses. For the first time, people will be able to submit their responses online or call in their responses via phone. Additionally, paper submissions will be accepted. In the case of remote or very rural areas, census takers will go directly to homes to collect census data.
Having access to broadband, and thereby having the ability to conveniently complete the census online, is just one of the myriad of reasons why access and integration of broadband is so critical in underserved communities. Access to broadband must not become a barrier to completion of the census and ALLvanza is hopeful that the data collected by the census will help ensure underserved communities are better served in the future.
The census moving online continues the trend in recent years of public and private entities engaging consumers online. Whether it is the census, college applications, job applications, tracking a student’s academic progress, or searching for a healthcare provider, so many of the things we take for granted daily in our lives are difficult or impossible without broadband access. Like many job applications, it might get to a point where the census is only available online and without equal access to broadband across the country there would be a significant risk that large proportions of underserved communities would not be counted, increasing the number of HTC communities.
One of ALLvanza’s key policy priorities is to ensure that Latinxs and all Americans have access to broadband because without access to affordable, reliable broadband Internet on functional devices Latinxs and other underserved communities will continue to find themselves on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. If the census moves completely online, in this case the wrong side of the Digital Divide could mean that underserved communities do not receive needed resources or their voting district is not accurately represented. These are some of the real-world consequences of inequity in the deployment of broadband and why it is so important to continue to advocate for equal access and comprehensive adoption of broadband resources. Underserved communities must have equal access to broadband to be able to take advantage of the option to complete the census online and must participate in the census to ensure allocation of resources to underserved areas. Because of the importance of what is at stake, ALLvanza will proudly partnered with Univision and visit a HTC community in Texas and host an event to educate the community on the importance of the census and how to participate.
Key census questions answered:
Who will be counted?
Everyone living in the U.S. is intended to be counted, regardless of immigration or citizenship status.
What questions will be asked?
Questions that will be asked include:
- The number of people living or staying in a home on April 1, 2020.
- Whether the home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.
- A phone number for a person in the home.
- The name, sex, age, date of birth and race of each person in the home.
- Note that there will be a write-in section under race for the purpose of clarification
- Whether each person is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin
- The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.
- Note that within this portion there will be the option to indicate same sex or opposite sex
When will the census begin?
The census starts officially on January 2, 2020 but most households will have the opportunity to respond starting mid-March 2020.
Will the census include the citizenship question?
The federal courts ruled to permanently block the citizenship question from being included on the census.
What if I refuse to answer a census question?
A respondent may elect to abstain from answering a question (or questions) within the census and still be counted but there might be follow up from the Census Bureau to ascertain the answer(s).
Are census responses confidential?
Yes. Demographic data from the census is only allowed to be shared at the neighborhood level, not the household level.
Are there options for responding to the census in languages other than English?
Yes. The paper version is available in English and Spanish. The ability to respond by phone is available in English Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. There is also a video in American Sign language and guidance in 59 non-English languages.