Why The Census Is Important

Why The Census Is Important

This article explains the reasons why filling out the Census form is very important.

Engaged Citizen Corner



League of Women Voters of Brookline


Ten minutes for 10 years of benefit…from your couch, you are “democracy in action”!

Your voice, and the power and voice of Massachusetts, are at stake.  The census self-response deadline has been extended to October 31.  Mail-in response forms are on the way to households that have not yet responded.  As of April 29th the MA response rate was 56.7% and the Brookline response rate was 54.3%.  We have a way to go!

An accurate and complete census count determines the number of seats MA has in the U.S. House of Representatives; defines our congressional and state legislative districts, school districts and voting precincts.   It determines our share of the annual allocation of $675 billion of federal funding for programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, highway planning, Title 1 grants, Head Start, and National School Lunch Programs.

The March 26th “You Count!” Engaged Citizen Corner article highlighted multiple ways to answer the Census: online, by phone in 13 languages, mailing back the paper questionnaire sent to the household in either English or Spanish, or as a last resort during a personal visit by a Census employee.  The article cited what an accurate count means to Brookline, including that on average for every person missed, Brookline could lose $2,300/year or $23,000 over 10 years.

Now, in the midst of COVID-19 isolation, Census officials, state and local governments, multiple agencies and groups are scrambling to maintain response momentum, adapt to changing deadlines, accurately count between 100-150,000 college and graduate students (where they actually were living April 1, especially those off campus), and reach out effectively to groups with traditional low response rates. 

“Getting to the Point on the 2020 Census” webinar April 28th, facilitated by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, confirmed that Federal funding, elected representation and redistricting are key issues.

According to State Representative Paul Mark (D-Peru), Chair of the House Committee on Redistricting, MA had about a five percent growth rate over the past 10 years, mostly in and around Boston with close to 12 percent.  There is about a 3.7 percent population decline in the Berkshires, and other areas have slow or no growth. Texas might gain three seats, Florida two, and other states in the south and west might also gain.

Vatsady Sivongxay, MA Statewide Complete Count Committee chair and coordinator of the MA Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), stated that historically undercounted groups are diverse and even harder to reach now during the pandemic. A heightened mistrust of government, partially due to the attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census may contribute, even though the question was blocked by the U.S. Supreme court in June 2019.  Assuring residents that the Census Bureau will keep census responses confidential for 72 years is critical, particularly for those afraid about their immigration status.

The hard to reach are mainly people of color, immigrants, children under five years old not being included by respondent, those experiencing housing issues and homelessness, and individuals without Internet access – important as this is the first census with online response.  In Massachusetts, one initiative includes working with the 20 colleges and universities in the Boston area to reach out aggressively to wherever their students are now to enable them to respond based on their April 1st abode.  Since self-responses are extended to October 31st, colleges, universities and students have more time.

Challenges for completion of census forms extend beyond colleges and universities to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, jails, prisons, military barracks – all classified as “group quarters.”  Jeff Behler, Regional Director for the Census Bureau, confirms they are working with all these venues to try to get administrative files (lists of everyone there), rather than doing individual interviews.

August 11th is the planned date when knocking on non-responders’ doors will start. Brookline government, community organizations and individuals should use social media, phone trees, texting, etc. to encourage everyone to make their voice heard before that date.

Sources:  Carolyn Cappuccino, Census Staff Representative for Norfolk County; Nancy Wagman, Kids Count Director for MA; “Getting to the Point on the 2020 Census” webinar 4/28/20, EMK Institute; https://2020census.gov/en/response-rates.html

The League is a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government and that works to influence public policy through education and advocacy. All articles can be found at bit.ly/2pDSdPa.