While current events have understandably diminished attention on the 2020 U.S. Census, which began two weeks ago, the count now underway remains one of the defining events of this year.
Fortunately, for a state and nation largely confined to their homes, the Census, for the first time in its history, can be completed online. Or by phone. Or by mail.
Connecticut is off to a relatively slow start, and accelerating the completion rate is essential -– because the accuracy of the count will impact and influence decisions that will literally last a decade.
As of March 20, only 19 percent of Connecticut residents had responded to the 2020 U.S. Census. Eight days later, that percentage had grown to 34.1%. Yet, Connecticut’s self-response rate was barely above the national average, and ranked 21st in the nation.
State officials have pointed out that Connecticut receives $10.7 billion annually in federal funding in areas including roads, schools, public works, and vital assistance programs. Many of these federal funding formulas rely on the Census data to apportion funds. The equation is simple: a less than accurate count equals less funding.
The data collected from the once-per-decade survey of the American people is also used to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts and to determine the number of congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. After the 2010 Census, based on population data nationwide, Connecticut lost a Congressional seat, reducing the state’s delegation from six to five.
Beyond federal funds and legislative districts, business decisions – such as where to locate or expand – are also often influenced by data that is provided based on Census counts. It would not be overstating the impact of the Census count to say it will impact virtually every aspect of our life through 2030.
Invitations for every household in the U.S. to participate in the Census, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, were sent to households between March 12 and March 20. Those who did not respond received a follow-up reminder in the mail this past week. Reminders will continue to arrive until later this year, when the Census Bureau will send representatives to knock on the doors of those yet to respond, to offer in-person assistance. (The exact timing of those visits will likely depend on when it is determined that it is safe to do so, due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
For most people, in-person visits shouldn’t be necessary. The Census form typically takes about 10 minutes to complete, whether it is filled out on-line, by phone, or on paper. Invitations to respond included a 12 digit number which facilitates the process. But even without that code number in hand, the Census form can be completed. And the 2020 Census online form is compatible with all Android and Apple smartphone browsers.
The 2020 Census marks the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790. The Census Bureau does not disclose any personal information; the law requires the Census Bureau to keep information confidential and use responses only to produce statistics. It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census information that identifies an individual. Census Bureau employees take a lifelong pledge of confidentiality to handle data responsibly and keep respondents’ information private. No law enforcement agency – not the DHS, ICE, FBI, or CIA – can access or use personal information at any time.
One Census form should be completed for every household – and the person filling out the form should count everyone who is living in the household on April 1, 2020. In addition to the state’s Complete Count Committee, and the efforts of nonprofit and community groups, there are more than 100 local Complete Count Committees in municipalities across the state, helping to encourage participation.
Everyone is pulling in the same direction, to ensure as complete a count as possible. The current public health crisis underscores the importance of accurate data upon which public policy decisions – and funding – can be made. More than $675 billion in federal funding flows back to states and local communities each year based on census data.
Whether Connecticut receives our fair share, based on our population, largely depends on the accuracy of our count. And the count is underway right now.
Michelle Riordan-Nold is a member of Connecticut’s Complete Count Committee and Executive Director of the Connecticut Data Collaborative (www.ctdata.org), the lead organization for the State of Connecticut in the U.S. Census Bureau’s State Data Center Program and Connecticut’s official source for data related to the 2020 Census. Additional information about the 2020 Census is available at www.2020census.gov or by calling 800-923-8282.