2020 has already been a chaotic year. Our news cycle changes so quickly that it’s easy to forget about the many pressing items of import that still need our attention. Today’s item: The Census.
The United States Census takes place every ten years (this makes it “decennial” data). The purpose? To count literally everybody in the country. Well, that’s just part of the purpose. The Census is used for a lot more than just counting people.
And why does Planned Parenthood South Atlantic care about the Census? There are a few reasons.
The reasons we need an accurate count can be broken down into two categories: representation and resources.
Census data is used for political apportionments, to draw district lines, and for local-level decision-making.
Many people living in America are concerned about participating in the Census due to the Trump administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question, and worry their responses might lead to detention and deportation. A federal court blocked this question but the attempt itself will lead to an undercount of marginalized communities and will likely mean a reduction in the amount of support for reproductive and other health programs directed to these communities.
Historically, several groups have been systematically undercounted. Those groups include Black and Brown people, people with lower-incomes (both in urban and rural areas), young children (especially those of Black and Latinx families), single, female headed-households, and young adult renters. This list can feel like a huge segment of the population – and spoiler alert – it is!
The outcome of misrepresenting huge groups of people? Higher rates of undercounting that skew Census data, impacting our representation in government and the allocation of resources for the next 10 years.
I cannot stress this enough: representation matters. The Trump administration has created a toxic environment for people of color and immigrants that exacerbates an already historic mistrust in government.
During this election year, the Trump Administration and other anti-reproductive health politicians are more than happy to let huge segments of the population go unheard and unrepresented.
We must be counted because we count.
The Census data directly impacts health care resources due to how government funds are distributed.
For instance, data from the 2020 Census will help:
- State and community leaders determine when bus routes need to be changed or added to match up with where people live and work.
- Company executives to identify communities where they might build a factory or office building, or open new stores.
- Determine where and how billions of dollars are spent on infrastructure needs like water treatment facilities to get clean drinking water to where residents live—and to treat wastewater and protect the environment in areas where the population is growing.
- Target over $800 billion in federal funds to states, localities, and families each year for programs that help people with low incomes gain access to vital resources like healthcare.
Decennial data will help us understand the health status and health needs of the population.
- 22 million children get free or reduced-price lunches every day. Census data influences the distribution of the free lunch program.
- 25 million patients rely on Community Health Centers for healthcare in rural and urban settings. Census data influence the funding for Community Health Centers.
- 900 thousand children have a better shot at succeeding in school and life because of Head Start and Early Head Start. Census data influences the distribution of Head Start funds.
A fair and accurate 2020 Census is deeply essential to the appropriate allocation of federal funding for programs and services that support reproductive health.
State Medicaid reimbursement levels rely, in part, on decennial data. In addition, programs such as WIC, Title X Family Planning Grants, Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grants, the 340B Drug Pricing Program, and Social Services Block Grants (SSBG) also rely on accurate Census data for the most efficient use of funds.
We must be counted because vital services count.
But, if people are afraid, all the facts and figures about why being counted is so important mean nothing. And people are afraid. The Trump Administration has intentionally created an atmosphere of fear, and those effects cannot be ignored.
We can’t erase the presence of fear, but we can reassure people that data collected through the Census will be kept confidential. The Census Bureau is not an enforcement agency – they are a statistical data collection unit.
Under Title 13, Census Bureau workers are prohibited from sharing any collected information and Census staff face jail time or a $250,000 fine if information is shared.
Again, even though the citizenship question is no longer on the questionnaire and Census workers are not allowed to share information, we understand that the count will be skewed based on fear and misinformation.
A note on Coronavirus COVID-19
We cannot predict the effect that quarantines and shutdowns due to COVID-19 will have on Census data collection. As of the publishing of this post, Census data collection has not been postponed or extended.
We will do our best to encourage our friends, neighbors, and communities to fill out their forms from afar. If you know anyone who might be afraid to fill out their Census questionnaire, please talk to them about why the Census is so important and let them know that all of their information will be kept safe and private.
We must be counted in order to make our voices count.