Every 10 years the US government conducts a census to get an accurate count of everyone living within our borders. This data impacts everything from federal funding for healthcare and schools to how US congressional reps are apportioned.
If there's one thing you should do after reading this post... it's take the census!
It’s hard to sugarcoat things… the world feels pretty chaotic right now.
And with so many of us stuck in our homes, one question looms large – What can I do to help?
We have already posted an entire blog with a list of the many volunteer opportunities, groups to donate to, and virtual communities to lend your talents. But, we also know that these long lists can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, which is why we wanted to dedicate this post to 1 clear action item you can do that will have a longterm and far-reaching impact. Plus you can do it from the safety of your own home!
Fill out the census.
So why is the census so important?
Every 10 years, the US government conducts a census in order to get an accurate count of everyone living within our borders.
The data collected from the census is then used to make lots of big decisions, including:
Federal funding for schools, roads, buses, and healthcare services
Political lines that are drawn for Congress, State House seats, and school board members
Public safety and emergency preparedness
And why is this especially relevant now? During COVID-19?
Numbers compiled during the census will determine how much federal funding is allocated to our region for exactly the type of programs we’re seeing a huge need for during this COVID-19 crisis. This includes healthcare services, SNAP (which helps supplement the food budget of families in need), and the National School Lunch Program, which provides free and low-cost meals to students. Even while schools are closed, AISD is still offering this program to its students.
The census also helps to determine how many representatives we get in Congress, which in a place that’s growing as quickly as Austin, is pretty meaningful. As we begin to recover from this crisis and figure out how to build more resilient communities in the future (especially in the face of climate change), who we choose to represent us has never been more important.
And what about historically under-represented communities?
Well before the COVID-19 crisis hit, there was a lot of focus on ensuring that historically undercounted/ underrepresented communities are accurately counted this time around. To try and address this, the following groups were created to lead the census effort within their own communities:
However, many of the original census outreach plans revolved around public events, door-to-door canvassing, and pop-up stations at public libraries and schools. Obviously, many of these are no longer practical and at the same time, the need to count these historically under-served communities has never been greater. That’s why all of these community groups are now hard at work, adapting their original outreach plans to more heavily rely on things like text chains and social media.
Okay. How can I help?
1. Take the census.
Postcards with information about how to take the census online were mailed out last week, so keep an eye on your mailbox. You can also just go directly to the census website and complete the form there. It should take less than 10 minutes.
2. Promote the census on social media.
In collaboration with the Travis County/ Austin Census Committee, we’ve created a series of sharable graphics for Facebook and Instagram explaining what the census is and encouraging people to take it. The graphics are completely open to the public, so please, download them, share them, personalize them, whatever you want… just as long as you encourage your friends and family to take the census!
View this post on Instagram
Stuck at home? Going a little crazy and looking for something positive + impactful to do? Take the census! Postcards were mailed out on March 12th and include all the info you need to take the census online. ****** Yes, things feel crazy right now, but making sure everyone gets counted for the census is still important, since it impacts how much federal funding Austin gets allotted for things like healthcare and education. It also determines how many reps we get in Congress.
People have also been making lots of fun videos, etc to promote the census. Check out the creativity below.
View this post on Instagram
Since #coronavirus is exposing us to all kinds of red flags🚩 re: systemic inequality and our health care system- make sure you do your part n GET COUNTED ✅. Resources, infrastructure and representatives rely on you! 📝🇺🇲 You can get it done online 🔗 In our bio 🔥🔥 . Tik Tok: @lgbtqcensus / @ne_counts /@columbusgov / @makeyouthcount #humanizepolicy #generator
The local community groups organizing around census outreach are currently brainstorming ideas for how the public can get involved. We’ll post action items here as soon as they make them public!
One last (and very important thing) about the census. Will there be a citizenship question?
As it says on the Austin/ Travis County Census website – “The 2020 Census questionnaire will NOT include a question about an individual’s citizenship status. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, has certain basic rights.”
It is constitutionally mandated that everyone be counted in the US census. Answers are kept confidential and are used for statistical purposes only. Again, as it says on the Austin/ Travis County Census website – “Answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine personal eligibility for government benefits. Personal information cannot be used against respondents for the purposes of immigration enforcement.”
Want to learn even more about the census?
Back in February, we dedicated an entire episode of Shades of Green (Austin’s environmental talk radio show and our radio partner) to the census. You can listen to the full podcast above (or on iTunes) or listen to it on Soundcloud below.