I was in high school in 2000 the first time I was involved in the U.S. census. My mom asked me to fill out the census form. She was concerned because she saw that it was mandatory but didn’t feel comfortable filling it out. She asked me to help her since I was the oldest. What stood out to me was all of the pages on the paper form. I was only a teen so I was confused by all of the questions about my family such as how many of us lived in our home and our ages. One question that I will never forget was the one that asked about our ethnicity. This was the first time I had to think about this concept and what it meant to my family.
My first experience with the census is one that many children of immigrants can relate to. We are often asked to translate for our families or to make sense of government forms that need to be filled out without fully understanding them ourselves. As a teenager, you do not always have the knowledge to understand why or know who we are sharing our family’s information with. This is an enormous amount of responsibility that often falls on people who may have limited access to resources to educate themselves on how best to complete the census form.
I went on to work for the U.S. Census Bureau as a Supervisory Survey Statistician. I saw firsthand how seriously the Bureau takes protecting the privacy and responses of everyone who participates in their surveys. On the first day of employment with the Bureau, before completing any employment paperwork, people are required to take an oath to uphold Title 13. Title 13 is the law that guarantees privacy protection for everyone participating in a Census Bureau survey. The penalties for violating that law are serious; up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Additionally, Title 13 prohibits the U.S. Census Bureau from sharing personally identifiable data with any other government agency and does not allow for this data to be used in any criminal proceedings. I repeatedly shared this important part of the law with prospective survey respondents, especially those who had reservations about sharing information with a government agency. There were times when I had to explain this to children of immigrants who, like myself, were answering surveys on behalf of their parents. I explained to them how their responses were kept confidential and the sworn oath that I and every Census Bureau employee takes on the first day. I assured them that all responses to surveys are encrypted and directly transmitted to secure servers.
It is easy for people to be skeptical about all of these protections. I also know that there have been many concerns with the census this time with confusion over a question about citizenship status. This question will not be on the 2020 census. I always tell people that I understood their reluctance to respond since I had been on the other side myself answering survey questions on behalf of my family. But I stressed the importance of the survey to their community. This is the case for the 2020 census. It helps determine so much that will be decided during the next decade until the 2030 census. Those who do not participate lose their opportunity to show who they are and what they and their community needs.
As our society continues to wrestle with huge economic and social issues, data helps us make sense of how these problems impact our community. Each of us has a unique part to play in the process by participating in the census. It is important to make sure that you are counted so that policymakers have a better understanding of the needs within your community.
The census is an important civic duty that everyone living in this country can participate in. Congress is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to know who is living in our country every ten years to make the necessary changes that will ensure fairer representation across the country. On Census Day, April 1, 2020, Americans everywhere will have completed the census form. An official report with the census count will be delivered to the President by December 31, 2020. This data will then be used by state governments and Congress to redistrict various levels of government representation and will determine the level of public funding that will be allocated to various government entities. This includes funding support for all levels of education.
For the Waubonsee Community College District, the 2020 census will allow researchers like myself to better gauge how our community has changed over the last 10 years and assess whether changes in services need to be made to meet the district’s needs. Our district is unique in that the last census demonstrated that our area was the fastest growing in the state while much of the state’s population had declined. The 2020 census will help us better understand how much our community has grown since the 2010 Census.
Thankfully, there are many more resources available now to assist families with filling out the census form than there were when in 2000 when I completed the form for the first time. The Census Bureau recognizes the diversity of the nation and its needs and now provides informational material online to support 12 languages other than English. This is also the first census where you do not have to complete a paper form but can complete it online. I encourage everyone to participate in the census. You really do count.