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The 2020 Census is Here. What Does it Mean?

By Anthony SanFilippo
February 2020

The 2020 Census is practically upon us.

It is a vast undertaking that takes place once a decade and in a lot of ways requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to get it right.

That means it’s not just the United States Census Bureau that tackles the Herculean task of breaking down the country’s population. No, the Bureau leans on the help of various national organizations to provide outreach to all citizens of the country to make sure the participation level is as high as it can be.

The Census is more than just a headcount. It’s vastly important to determine a lot of things over the course of the next 10 years in America.

“Approximately $1.5 trillion in federal dollars is allocated to states and specific communities each year based purely on Census results.”

It helps to determine accurate Congressional representation in the House of Representatives as well as the number of delegates offered to a state for Presidential elections.

But perhaps more importantly, federal funding allocated to states often relies on the accuracy of the most recent Census. Whether it’s funding to improve infrastructure projects like roads and hospitals or funding for schools or even the allocation of money for federal student loans or government-funded housing – how to spread that money around appropriately results from the Census count.

Among the organizations, the Bureau is enlisting to support the outreach for the Census is the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).

“NAR is able to provide tremendous value to our members because of the research we produce examining trends in communities across this country,” NAR President Vince Malta, a broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, said in a statement. “But the usefulness of that information relies on current, accurate data from the federal government. Full participation in the Census is in many ways the only way to ensure that data is correct.”

According to NAR, approximately $1.5 trillion in federal dollars is allocated to states and specific communities each year based purely on Census results.

In 2020 alone, the Census will influence the allocation of $93.5 billion in Federal Direct Student Loans, $19.3 billion in Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers and $12 billion for the National School Lunch Program.

NAR will ask each of its 1.4 million members to share promotional materials about the Census with clients, potential clients, neighbors and events that gather communities together.

Notices about the 2020 Census will be mailed in mid-March, and the Bureau will offer a guide in roughly 60 different languages. This year will mark the first time the questionnaire can be completed online, while options to respond over the phone and through the mail will still be available.

Last month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reviewed some of the challenges associated with accurately securing this information at its hearing, Reaching Hard-to-Count Communities in the 2020 Census. And states are taking different measures to try to reach hard-to-count communities or simply to provide reminders for people to participate in more populated areas.

Efforts At The State Level

In Nevada, stickers on produce at supermarkets and catchy jingles on video screens while pumping gas are being considered to get people to participate and to boost their participation rate from the 71 percent it was in 2010.

In Alaska, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group helped to translate the Census into four Native Alaska languages that are unique specifically to their state, to boost participation. American Indians and Alaska Natives have been historically underrepresented in the Census, with an estimated undercount of 4.9 percent in 2010. Also, Alaska gets an early start on the Census, as it has been underway since January since it is easier to reach some of the state’s more remote villages during the winter freeze than after it starts to thaw out in the Spring.

In New York, the City’s Census office has a target to educate 10,000 New Yorkers directly and recruit 7,500 volunteers for Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees, to conduct “Get Out the Count” efforts across the city including through phone-banking, text-banking and on-the-ground canvassing.

The city has also pressed into service the City University of New York, a range of city agencies that regularly interact with the public, and 110 branches of the city’s three library systems. They are also being aided by a host of labor unions, business groups, faith leaders and houses of worship.

New York’s participation percentage of 62 percent in 2010 lagged far behind the national average of 75 percent.

One of the reasons some people choose not to participate in the Census is because there is a mistrust in the government about what it will do with the data collected through the Census. However, the Census Bureau will never ask for bank account or social security numbers, donations or anything on behalf of a political party, and strict federal law protects the confidentiality of Census responses.

A lot can change in a decade. The last time the Census was done in 2010, selfies on your iPhone wasn’t even a thing. And while 10 years-worth of photos on America’s smart phones are not on the Bureau’s radar, it is important for the government to track changes that occurred in the past decade as to where people live, who got married, had children, and how that impacts federal money to be appropriated into each state and specifically into individual communities.

It’s important to be counted.

There are three ways to take part in the 2020 Census:

  • BY MAIL: Available in both English and Spanish, the paper form will arrive via mail in April and can be mailed back to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • ONLINE: For the first time ever, the census can be completed online. It will be available in 13 different languages (English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese). The website is census.gov
  • BY PHONE: Call 1-800-923-8282 and provide answers over the phone. All 13 languages listed above are also available on the phone as well as the Telecommunication Device for the Deaf.


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