So what’s the big deal? Isn’t the census just a count of how many people there are? Who cares?
In the City of New London, the census is considered a very big deal. The decennial census directly determines the number of representatives Connecticut will have in the U.S. Congress and it will define the boundaries of our legislative districts, voting precincts, even school districts. The census count determines how much money New London or any community gets from the roughly $675 billion in federal funds distributed locally for the programs that protect the health and overall well-being of citizens.
The results of the census directly determine the amount of funding New London will receive for the next ten years for important services to senior citizens, public education, heating assistance, road improvements, public transportation, police and fire departments, community block grants –the list goes on. For every person who is not counted, the city must cover the cost of these essential programs without the benefit of federal dollars.
New London has formed a broad coalition of community stake holders into its Complete Count Committee. This is the first step to educate the community on how its members will be counted. Beginning the week of March 12, most households will receive in the mail an invitation to respond to the 2020 Census. Families need to be on the lookout for the census invitation since the envelope will not be addressed to a person, but only to an address. The invitation is to reassure people that the U.S. Census Bureau could not have made it any easier, or more comfortable, to respond.
For the first time ever, people can respond in any one of four ways. The first two response options are by an online survey or by calling a toll-free number. These two options will be available in 12 non-English languages. The languages used cover about 99% of the non-English speaking households in our country. In addition, the Census Bureau has created videos and printed instructional guides in an additional 59 non-English languages. There are only seven questions on the survey, so depending household size, it only takes a few minutes to complete the census.
The city earns a huge dividend for each person who spends the roughly ten minutes that it will take to complete this once-every-ten-year census. The positive impact on the community lasts a decade.
If people do not immediately respond to the census through the internet or by the phone, they will receive a second letter or postcard from the Census Bureau reminding them to complete the census online or by phone. If they still have not participated by early April, they will get a paper questionnaire mailed to their home. So, the traditionalists will get an opportunity to respond in writing and mail their survey back.
Finally, for those households that don’t respond online, or by the toll-free number, or the paper options, a friendly, locally hired census taker will come knocking on their door to collect the same information.
The Census Bureau is also offering job opportunities in our city to help ensure that we have a complete count. The Census Bureau is hiring people in the local community to be census takers, or “enumerators” as they are officially known, to visit households that do not initially respond to the census. The Census Bureau wants local people, age 18 or above, to apply for these temporary, part-time jobs. Enumerators can tailor their work schedules to their availability, for instance, early evenings or weekends. In Eastern Connecticut, the hourly rate for these jobs is $23.50 per hour. An application can be completed online at 2020Census.gov/jobs.
The city’s Complete Count Committee is also educating people about the questions on the survey. The short survey includes a person’s name, sex, age, date of birth, whether the person is of Hispanic heritage, race, and a person’s relationship with other people in the household. The census also asks whether a person lives or stays somewhere else. This question is especially relevant in communities like New London, where the rate of homelessness is often underestimated among certain populations, like students and veterans. A person’s address on record, for instance given by a student or veteran, may not necessarily be where they actually live. Counting a person where they actually live, as opposed to their mailing or family’s address, is extremely important.
The Complete Count Committee in New London has developed strategies for counting people in areas that are predicted to be hard to count. The committee plans to work through radio, newspapers, television ads, social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and word of mouth to reach all segments of the population. The Complete Count Committee will rely on help from churches, the Homeless Hospitality Center, community meal programs, schools, barbershops and hair stylists. Census takers will be present at community events like Sailfest and working with trusted community organizations like the Hispanic Alliance, the NAACP and the Public Library of New London.
Most importantly, to successfully count everyone in our community, people must be reassured that their personal information is protected. New London’s Complete Count Committee will be communicating through our partners who are trusted in our community. Additionally, federal law prohibits the Census Bureau, and any of its employees, from sharing any information that would identify a person or a household. It is crucial that people understand that census data cannot be used for immigration enforcement or law enforcement. The count has occurred every ten years since 1790. The Census Bureau could not do this important count if the data that is needed were not strictly protected. In the end, the personal data collected generates statistics without any personal identifiers.
In New London our Complete Count Committee is working hard to build trust in the census process throughout our diverse community. Building that trust will guarantee our success in counting every person who lives the City of New London. A complete count will ensure that our city is fully funded throughout the decade to come.
Nick and Karen Fischer are Honorary Co-Chairs of the New London Complete Count Committee. Jeanne Milstein is Director of Human Services for the City of New London.