The Census is starting soon, which is the only reason to open the door for a stranger. That is, unless he tells you he has candy in his van, in that case, you’ve got to see what he’s offering, what if he has fudge?
The US Census is a long-standing American tradition and every decade the government rolls out eye catching TV ads to encourage participation. At the start of each decade the government does a comprehensive count of every single person residing in the United States, not just citizens or voters, every single person. Only by knowing how many people live in an area can communities effectively plan to provide things like: roads, schools, and emergency services. The census is usually conducted through mail in forms sometimes supplemented by in-person interviews as training films for the 1940 census shows. However hard counting every single person seems, it’s actually much harder because some groups can be particularly tricky to count, including: children, those living in remote areas, and homeless people. To accomplish all of this, the government opens 250 regional offices and hires around half a million temporary workers. They also Mail notifications to over 140 million households. Conducting the census is the largest and most complicated peacetime operation that the government undertakes.
The 2020 census is likely to be even more challenging than usual for reasons ranging from budget shortfalls to active Republican meddling, so let’s talk about it and let’s start with what questions are actually on the census. A lot of people don’t know what they are and that very much includes the current President himself. What they do, is they go up to houses and ring their doorbells, talk to people how many toilets they have and how many desks do they have. Besides checking if you have the normal amount of toilets, the Center’s ask you just a few basic questions such as: your name, age, sex, race, ethnicity, how many people live in your home, how they are related to one another, and whether you rent or own. That is essentially it and yet some people still do not want to engage with the census partly because nobody really likes filling out surveys and partly because when the government asks questions, people can get paranoid. There is a whole sub-genre of YouTube videos from the last census where libertarians filmed themselves taunting census workers. One video filmed by a man, insisted the census was unconstitutional and then added that it’s way too personal of information. Everyone knows the census is very much constitutional, in fact it’s not just in the Constitution it’s the sixth sentence. Think about how significant that is, freedom of speech didn’t even make it in the constitution at all, they had to tack that on later in the eighteenth century, equivalent of a post-it note. It is critically important that people participate in a census, census data is used to evenly distribute political power. The states seats in the House of Representatives are divided up based on population and after every census adjustments are made. Some states are anxious about being under counted, for example Minnesota.
Census data also plays a crucial role in directing government funding. Hundreds of federal programs use census data to distribute well over $80 billion dollars to states and localities. If your community’s population count is off even by just a tiny percentage, it can have real consequences. Take the the city of Circle Pines Minnesota in the last census, they were just eighty-two people shy of the 5,000 person threshold required to qualify for certain state roads funds and local officials were very frustrated because they believed that they’d had an undercount. Businesses also use census data to decide where to add jobs or open stores, so it is absolutely vital to get the census right. That is why it’s so unfortunate that the president seems to think it’s a complete waste of time and money. To avoid problems, typically the bureau does multiple full-scale test runs in different locations to make sure that everything is not only working but that it will work in a variety of difficult areas. The 2020 census will ask about citizenship for the first time in decades, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announcing the decision following a request by the Justice Department. You may remember that that last year Wilbur Ross, who is in charge of the census, announced a citizenship question would be added to the census, in a move that even the bureau’s chief scientist said would harm the quality of the census count. If you have the government asking people if they are citizens, many may choose not to respond out of fear that the information could be used against them. It is against the law for the bureau to disclose any private information that identifies an individual to anyone. Personal census information is actually kept completely confidential for 72 years.
Redistricting is like an election in Reverse. It’s a great event, as usually the voters get to pick the politicians in redistricting. But in this instance, politicians chose the Voters.
By the time it takes the census for estimates to become effective, a municipality may have different people living within it. Each year, the Census Bureau estimates who lives in the country’s 130,000 municipal areas. The census helps government agencies learn how their citizens are faring, and how to better service them.
Each state produces their own free PDF or disk file for their counties. Most states are open to the public to access census files.