EDITORIAL: Everyone in the United States of America counts
BY THOMAS B. WILLIAMS
Every 10 years the U. S. Government counts everyone living in the United States. They count no matter where they live, what they do, what their status may be or who they are. It is not meant to be a census of citizens, but rather of residents. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the census in years ending in zero, so the next one is scheduled for April 1, 2020.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution chose population to be the basis for sharing political power, not wealth or land. That was a radical act. Previous population counts had been carried out not to empower people, but to confiscate property or conscript young men into military service.
The information collected is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first U.S. Census, in 1790, was taken during the first term of our first president, George Washington. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson led the effort. The population was 3,929,625, and Congress used these results to apportion 105 seats among 15 states.
Apportionment is the process of dividing the seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states based on population figures collected during the census. The number of seats in the House has grown with the country. Congress created the current number of 435 in 1913.
The count determines the political power of each state in Congress as well as the allocation of federal funds. If people are nervous about being counted and choose not to participate, the undercounting has consequences. In New York State, an undercount of only 0.6 percent would reduce the state’s congressional delegation by two. With that undercount, New York would also lose federal funds for education, transportation and many other vital services for New Yorkers. About $675 billion is distributed throughout the country based on census data (Health and Welfare Council of Long Island www.hwcli.com).
Children about to enter the school system in 2020 who are not counted in this census will suffer for 10 years because their school will not receive the support of federal funding that would otherwise be allocated to our state.
Last spring, the New York State Legislature approved an allocation of “up to” $20 million for census outreach. These funds are essential. New York State has many census challenges: large percentages of immigrants and mixed-status households; migrant workers; refugees; young children; people of color, and rural areas that are isolated and lack internet access.
We urge the governor to release these funds in order to do the outreach necessary to meet these challenges.
For the first time, census data will be collected primarily online, which will help manage costs and make it easier for some people to participate. But the new format is also going to make it harder for people without reliable internet access, most of whom live in areas that are already historically undercounted (New York State Census Equity Fund nycommunitytrust.org).
Suffolk County risks being undercounted because the lack of affordable housing forces people to live in basements and apartments that are difficult to identify in the census count. People who are struggling to put food on the table don’t necessarily see completion of the census as a strong priority.
South Country Unites has worked hard to encourage local residents to become involved in democracy: to register to vote and do so thoughtfully, and to consider and speak out on public issues. We urge everyone to spread the word about the importance of the 2020 Census and make sure that everyone is counted on April 1, 2020.
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