The beginning of a new decade brings the opportunity for everyone living in the United States to be counted. The Constitution requires the population be counted every 10 years, including all ages, all ethnicities, all workers, all students, those who are retired, homeowners, renters, those who are homeless, and immigrants regardless of documentation. While the form can look complicated, there are essentially 9 questions: (1) how many people are living in the home or apartment on April 1st, (2) how many other people are staying there on April 1st, (3) is the home owned or rented, (4) telephone number, and for each person in the dwelling (5) sex, (6) age, (7) date of birth, (8) ethnicity, and (9) race. There is not a question about citizenship.
Results of the census are used by a broad range of people, from businesses deciding where to expand and what goods and services to offer, to local governments determining where to build schools, parks, and libraries. Census data determines the number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives, and where their districts are. Information from the census will direct where over $675 billion of federal funds will be distributed to states for the following decade, including infrastructure investment, and funding for health, social welfare and education.
The Census Bureau identifies particular groups of residents that are “hard-to-count” populations which have traditionally been undercounted in the census process, including young children, people experiencing homelessness, people with low incomes, racial and ethnic minorities, people who identify as LGBTQ, people with mental or physical disabilities, to name a few. What happens when people are not counted? Vital programs that help support our most vulnerable community members are not adequately funded, and our democracy suffers because people are not represented in government. An inaccurate census negatively impacts us all by weakening the fabric of our economy, our democracy and undermining the values of our country.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that about 1 million children under the age of 5 are likely to be undercounted in the 2020 census. This will jeopardize “hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for programs that are critical to family stability and opportunity” (https://www.aecf.org/blog/one-million-missing-undercount-of-young-kids-in-2020-census-threatens-gains/). When children are undercounted in the census some of the consequences will be overcrowded classrooms, early learning programs like Head Start closing, understaffed emergency rooms and children without healthcare. Children develop in the context of their families and it is critical to make sure families with young children have the support they need to thrive. We will all benefit when children have the skills to be successful leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, and citizens of the future.
Vermont Governor Scott has created a “Complete Count Committee” to help ensure we have an accurate census in 2020. The executive order has designated a group of up to 30 members to be formed from across state government and a cross-sector of community organizations and businesses responsible for confirming that everyone in Vermont is counted including the most difficult to count populations. The committee is charged with identifying barriers and developing and administering an outreach action plan that has a broad range of possible activities, from state initiatives to school-based outreach programs to partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and a multilingual multimedia campaign designed to ensure an accurate and complete count of the population in Vermont.
As the second least populated state in the union, it is especially important that we all be counted in order to get our full representation and the funding we need to make sure our young children and families have the best chance of succeeding. Counting every Vermonter will benefit us all.
Photo credit https://ncphilanthropy.org/event/u-s-census-bureau-workshop/