2020 Census Q&A with library staff members Sheena and Jenn
Sheena, CRCPL public services clerk and apprehensive citizen: It’s census time again. A magical time that comes every… so many years for… counting. Okay, so I don’t really know anything about the census. I mean, I know it is a big deal, allocation of resources and representation are important, obviously. Just the word alone, census, triggers that part of my brain that just turns to jelly, like the mention of insurance or taxes. Maybe it’s because I have SO many questions. Like, is it really possible to count everyone?! And how? In person, online, or will people call me? If they do, how do I know it’s not just savvy scammers just trying to steal my unlucrative identity? And speaking of scammers, why are they asking so many questions anyway? How do I know that the information is being used for its intended purpose?
It’s overwhelming. Thankfully, I know librarian who can help. Meet Jenn, Census Guru (as she is known to me in our email exchanges).
Jenn, CRCPL Access Team Leader and formerly described Census Guru: Have no fear, dear Sheena! Facts are one of the library’s greatest commodities! I am happy to shed some light on this confusing, colossal census situation.
First of all, understanding the importance of the census is crucial. Federal funds that trickle down to your community are based on population totals compiled by the census. When you respond to the census, you help your community get its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs. Businesses use census data to decide where to build new factories, offices, and stores. Developers use the census to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods. Local governments use census data for public safety and emergency preparedness.
Furthermore, the Electoral College is directly influenced by the census, as Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that an apportionment of representatives among the states must be carried out every 10 years. Those census numbers inform the division of 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Although it seems a monumental task, the census does aim to count the entire population of the United States. The goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place. Demographics like population, sex, age, and race will be captured.
For this year’s census, there will be less “boots on the ground,” except for special situations like Amish communities and the homeless. Instead, all U.S. citizens will be mailed a post card with 9 questions to answer, starting around mid-March. The official count begins April 1, and the post card can either be returned in the mail, or you can use the QR code on the card to fill out the questionnaire online.
Even if you don’t have your post card in hand, you can still be counted online. A permanent address isn’t required to get counted, either. Since the count is conducted on a residential basis, students away at college, for example, will be counted where they sleep. One thing to remember is to count your children! According to the Census Bureau, they are often the most missed demographic because parents forget to count them!
You can avoid “savvy scammers” during the census count by looking for a return address of Jeffersonville, Indiana, on any mail you receive. That’s where all census cards will be returned. You can also call 1-800-923-8282 to verify that anyone who calls you at home from the census is, in fact, a census representative. And if you take the census questionnaire online, be sure that you are entering your information at this address only: https://2020census.gov. Double check your browser’s address bar to make sure you haven’t been redirected somewhere fishy.
It is true that the Census Bureau is reporting a high distrust of the government right now (60 percent!), at all levels. It can be comforting to know that only aggregate totals will be made available to the public upon the completion of the count. Census data follows the 72-Year Rule, which means that, for 72 years after the count is completed, no personally-identifiable information may be made public. This is why the most recent census data we have for genealogy purposes is from 1940. We’ll (mostly) be long gone by the time that information is released!
So, what are you waiting for? Support your community by showing that you count! The questionnaire takes less than 10 minutes.
Fact Sheet: 2020 Census at a Glance
2020 Census Operational Adjustments Due to COVID-19 (Short Version)
2020 Census Operational Adjustments Due to COVID-19 (Long Version)