As the COVID-19 crisis wreaks unprecedented havoc, individuals who want to take action against the next calamity the nation may face can begin with one simple, yet significant step – fill out the 2020 U.S. Census form.
The information gleaned from each Census, which is taken every 10 years, provides insights that are invaluable in the everyday operations of state and local governments and are especially useful in times of emergencies.
In terms of ongoing functions, Census data help to ensure the United States remains a government of the people and in the most effective manner. For example, the Census’ population count determines the number of Congressional seats allotted to each state and provides insights for government-planning purposes. Census information helps those on the county, city and village levels understand population shifts and trends. This is important in knowing where to locate essential services such as police stations, fire stations and schools.
Census data are also pivotal in determining the funding distributions for 132 federal programs that affect our everyday lives. The programs include Head Start, National Lunch School Program, Medical Assistance Program, and Highway Planning and Construction, just to name a few.
In times of crisis, the Census is a real trouper and steps up to play an even more crucial role.
For instance, the Census yields insights that are crucial for planning efforts when faced with a situation similar to the current crisis. Some illustrations are having an accurate count of elderly individuals who are members of the “at risk” population. Also, knowing the total population in a vicinity in comparison to hospital beds and other health-care resources is vital. Finally, accurate density counts can help planners tackle the virus strategically, addressing which population centers will be hit the hardest.
Further, Census information helps to identify those who are other marginalized and underserved, such as those experiencing homelessness. Census workers strive to obtain an accurate count of individuals living in shelters and homeless encampments.
With the COVID-19 virus, the self-response date for the Census has been pushed back, for most people, to mid-August, allowing individuals ample time and opportunities (mail, phone or internet) to respond. This will prevent Census-takers from going door-to-door so extensively, threatening social-distancing tactics.
In all, the Census offers a low-impact opportunity to become involved in planning for the common good. Appropriately, it all adds up.
Katy Rossiter, Ph.D., worked as a geographer with the U.S. Census Bureau for 11 years. She currently is an asistant professor of geography at Ohio Northern University.