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In this moment of crisis, help out by being counted

Commentary
March 26, 2020By Daniel Hauser

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused the cancellation of graduation ceremonies, the NBA season, and other events, but the 2020 census goes on. The pandemic will make it both more important and harder for the U.S. Census Bureau to carry out the constitutional requirement to count ever person in our country every 10 years. There will not be people knocking on your door to encourage you to fill out the census until at least April 1, but invitations to fill out the 2020 census online began arriving in mailboxes earlier this month.

Much is at stake for Oregon in the results of the decennial census. More than ever, our state needs you to do your part in the census. Fill it out. Be counted.

The goal of the census is to count everyone in our country. Everyone means everyone. It doesn’t matter your citizenship status, your age, whether you are housed or houseless. If you live in the U.S., you count and ought to be counted.

The information from the decennial census has big implications for Oregon and all other states. It serves as the basis for determining the number of congressional seats a state has. Depending on the results of the 2020 census, Oregon could win a sixth congressional seat, giving Oregon a bit more clout in Congress. The census also has big economic ramification for states, as it determines the share of federal dollars a state receives.

In 2017 alone, Oregon received more than $19 billion from federal programs that based their allocations on the census data. That is more money flowing into Oregon than what the Oregon legislature spent in 2017 through the Oregon General Fund and Lottery Fund, what’s commonly referred to as the “state budget.” These federal investments in Oregon included billions for health insurance, rent vouchers, food assistance for low-income communities, and many other important programs.

Historically, many communities have been undercounted, with census response rates lower than the actual number of people in those communities. Inadequate language assistance, limited access to the internet, and other factors create barriers to filling out the census. The populations more likely to suffer from undercounting include Oregonians of color and low-income members of our community. High response rates in these communities translates into more political power and funding into these communities.

Unfortunately, an effort by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the census has created fear in the immigrant community that the information will assist the administration’s harsh deportation strategy. Thankfully, the legal challenges by community advocates prevented this question from being included in the 2020 census. To be clear, there is no citizenship question on the census.

Another challenge is counting children. Many parents forget to include young children in the household when they fill out the census. For example, the 2010 census missed one in 10 children under the age of four, higher rates than any other age group. In Oregon, this undercount of children cost the state nearly $1.6 million in 2015 alone. Failing to count a child in 2020 means that the education system that child depends on will receive less funding for an entire decade – much of their time in our K-12 education system.

Ensuring that all communities and populations are counted just got more difficult with the coronavirus crisis and the need to distance ourselves from others. A lasting delay to the field program could be especially harmful to the response rate in communities that traditionally suffer from undercounting.

And yet, a full accounting of all Oregonians is more important than ever. With the coronavirus pandemic portending a health crisis and economic slump that could drag out for a while, it is vital that Oregon receive its fair share of federal dollars.

So please do your part. Be counted.