Janea C. Jamison

Op-Ed: Get involved in the census count, or we all pay a high price | The Advocate

Note: This op-ed was originally published in The Advocate on August 20, 2020. You can read the original article here.

On Aug. 3, the Census Bureau issued a statement saying, “We will end field data collection by September 30, 2020. Self-response options will also close on that date to permit the commencement of data processing.” The new deadline is a month sooner than previously announced by the bureau.

Ensuring a fair and accurate count in the 2020 U.S. Census, which is the largest and most complex population count in the nation’s history, is essential to the communities we serve at the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice. The census determines how and where billions of federal dollars are spent, and every time someone goes uncounted, Louisiana loses out on $2,291.

Only 57.5% of Louisiana households have completed their 2020 census, ranking us 44th out of the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the national self-response rate is the lowest in modern history, requiring census-takers to collect responses in person from more people than ever before.

An accurate count takes time, especially during a pandemic. Communities of color, both urban and rural, are more likely to respond to the census through door-to-door field operations than online or over the phone, and only 74% of Louisianians have an at-home internet subscription.

Black households in the state are about two times less likely to have an at-home internet subscription than white households. That disparity means the 2020 Census cannot be complete without thorough door-to-door outreach, which is already difficult under “normal” circumstances.

Rushing data collection also increases the risks of inaccurate tabulations, which will result in a portrait of Louisiana that doesn’t truly reflect our state’s diversity. It will also deprive communities of the resources to recover from the pandemic since the census determines funding for health care, food security and more. And as a disaster-prone state with a high poverty rate, Louisiana desperately needs every dollar of federal funding we can get.

The census is also crucial to the fight for long-term political power. Census data is used for redistricting and for determining the number of seats in the U.S. Congress for each state.

Shortchanging the census deadline is a direct attempt to limit the voice and power of communities who have been historically underrepresented. If the census wasn’t so powerful, intentional steps wouldn’t be taken to suppress the count.

Communities that traditionally face the most oppression in this country are also the ones that are traditionally undercounted. Ending the census early will likely lead to an undercount of Black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities. When people of color are systematically excluded from the democratic process, representation is given to other communities instead, weakening our ability to hold elected officials accountable and share power in decision-making in our state and country.

The census is the foundation of our democracy. When done correctly, it benefits everyone. We must give all of our communities, and the Census Bureau workers, the time they need to produce a complete count.

Complete the census if you haven’t already, urge your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same, and contact your members of Congress and tell them to vote to extend the statutory deadlines for reporting 2020 census data. The future of Louisiana and our country depends on it.