Census aims to count everyone

Family education can come from students

The census is once again upon us this spring and with means making sure everyone in the United States is properly counted. But many families in the area may refuse to respond because they don’t quite understand how the census works.

If students are given more information about the census from their schools, they can relay the information to their family, playing a key role in making sure everyone is accounted for, said Jenny Tan, public information officer for Yolo County and co-chair for the Yolo County Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census.

“One of the big reasons why the census is so important is that every year the government gives out more than 675 billion dollars in federal funds. This is essentially tax money,” Tan said. “California, based on our population in the last 10 years, we have received about 70 billion dollars every year from this pot.”

Here’s everything you and your family need to know about the census:

What is the census and why does it matter?

The census is a survey taken every 10 years by all people around the country that informs the U.S Census Bureau about where to allocate federal funds. The data collected can not only determine the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives — which can affect who wins elections and which laws are made — but also which communities funds are sent to for roads and schools among other community items.

How should my family complete the census?

Families can complete the census one of three ways: through the mail, over the phone, or online. In mid-March people will begin receiving mail from the federal government with official information on how they can fill the census out.

Why are some people fearful of filling out the census?

Despite its importance to our democracy, the census has a complicated history that may cause fear for some families.

Ever since the first census in 1790, the data collected for the government survey has been used as a political tool, often creating racial inequalities.

As journalist Becky Little writes, originating from the years 1850 through 1930 when slavery was ending and Jim Crow laws were being created, a systemic distinguishing between racial minorities and caucasians arose. Questions regarding percentage of African ancestry were used to draw legislative districts and strategically give more funding to regions with populations consisting of less African Americans.

As different racial minorities became apparent in the United States, questions on the census became more subtle in their intentions. Questions about citizenship status or language spoken at home were intentionally designed to identify minorities.

Will there be a citizenship question on the 2020 census?

NO! Despite being removed from the 1960 census, a question regarding citizenship status has also been used to scare undocumented communities into not completing the census, a concept that oppresses communities that have high undocumented populations.

In early 2019 the Trump administration attempted to add the citizenship question back onto the census.

Critics argued that the addition of the citizenship question would have had major implications for the history of the American political system. New York Times journalist Michael Wines reported that “officials at the Census Bureau itself have said that including the question would lead to an undercount of noncitizens and minority residents.” These communities would then not only get less federal funding, but also less influence in politics due to the number of representatives, opponents said.

In June, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from including the question. Regardless, some are still fearful that their information could be used to hurt them if their private information, such as where they live or their citizenship status, is shared with other government agencies.

However under Title 13, the Census Bureau is obligated by law to keep everyone’s information confidential. This makes it so no one should be afraid to fill out the upcoming 2020 census in April.

Who are the hard-to-reach-populations in West Sacramento?

West Sacramento, home to River City High School, has a flourishing community of 52,826 residents as recorded in the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.

Among them are many groups considered “hard-to-reach” because they are historically undercounted and least likely to respond to the census.

These include the five percent of residents who are African Americans and the 31 percent who are Hispanic. About 43 percent of people speak a language other than English at home.

While 22 percent of people speak Spanish at home, 19 percent speak other Indo-European languages, and 3 percent speak Asian and Pacific Islander languages.

Of 166 students from River City High School in West Sacramento asked if they knew what the census was, 84 said yes they knew what it was while 82 said they did not.

When 121 of the same students questioned were asked if they were afraid the government would use the personal information collected from the census against them, 67 said yes, 54 said no.

“[We] understand that some people don’t trust the government for whatever reason, they may be leery about hearing things from the county, so we’re trying to get people to see and hear this message from more than us,” said Tan.

“From the cities, from the county, from the schools, from newspapers, from the TV,” said Tan.

“We’re really trying to spread the message wide so that everybody hears it,” she said.

Tan said that each person who is counted in the census accounts for $1,000 to $2,000 every year for 10 years that goes to the local community. If a family of five is not counted, for example, then that could be as much as $100,000 that community loses over 10 years.

“Knowledge is power, you can share what you know with your family, your teachers and your schoolmates so that they know to take the census because that money and political power is at stake,” Tan said. “The census impacts more than just the government. It impacts directly you and me and everybody else that lives in Yolo county.”

Tan pointed out that “the census is important because that’s how we build infrastructure. We build roads and schools and hospitals. Businesses come in because they see there is a population growth in West Sacramento and in other areas, they know where to invest their money.”

Every 10 years the census gives the government of how many people live where to ensure that they have enough funding, that all of their rules and regulations that are being enacted really meet the needs, and that the population that they are trying to serve is actually receiving services it needs.