Here is what you need to know about Census 2020

Zach Yearwood, General Assignment Reporter

With a new decade upon us, it is time to acknowledge an event that comes with it: the U.S. Census.

Very few college students are old enough to remember their parents participating in the last census in 2010, nor are they aware of what exactly the census is and why it is important. Many are also unaware of the legal issues surrounding the 2020 Census in particular.

What is the census?

The government conducts the census every 10 years in an attempt to accurately count the population of the country and its demographics. It is a massive undertaking that requires a large effort of coordination and planning.

The process of participating in the census usually involves filling out a survey by mail or by phone. Some people will receive in-person follow-up interviews to ensure accuracy.

2020 brings a unique twist to the census. This is the first year that there is an online option. The Census Bureau, the agency in charge of carrying out the census, hopes most participants fill the survey out online or by phone.

The United States is not the only country to conduct a Census. Almost every country performs one and the U.S. Census Bureau even assists other countries in the process.

When will the census be conducted?

The census has technically already begun. Alaska is the first state to begin counting its residents and began the process on Jan. 20. The rest of the United States will begin receiving invitations to respond on March 12 and every household should receive an invitation by April 1.

Why is the Census Important?

One of the first (and among the most important) things the government does with census data is allocate federal funding to localities and small towns.

“Communities rely on census statistics to plan for a variety of resident needs including new roads, schools, and emergency services,” according to the Census Bureau’s website.

In 2015, over 675 billion dollars in federal money went to local governments around the country. That number is expected to be over one trillion dollars annually this decade.

“Knowing where growth is happening helps with big decisions,” Michael Binder, a professor of Political Science at UNF said. “Where are you going to put highways, for example.”

The government also uses the census to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives. Each state gains or loses seats in the House based on how much its population changes from decade to decade. Florida, for example, gained two seats in 2010.

Not only does each state gain or lose seats, but the House of Representatives also redraws evenly apportioned districts. Because most states require a majority vote to approve their new districts, we often see the majority political party within the state draw districts to give themselves an advantage. This practice is known as gerrymandering.

“There is a lot of flexibility in the law on how districts can be drawn,” Binder said. “Undercounts can lead to misrepresented districts.”

Businesses also use the census to find trends in the population and new locations to open stores.

What questions are on the census?

Many people hate taking surveys. Luckily, the census asks simple questions about basic information. Some of the questions include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • How many people live in your household?
  • How are the people related?
  • Do you rent or own your home?

Some people are also concerned about potential privacy issues that could arise from giving out personal information. All census data is kept private for 72 years after it is conducted.

How should I fill out the survey?

Many college students wonder how they should report their addresses when filling out the census. This is because many students have a different permanent address than the dorm room or apartment in which they currently reside. There are, however, a few guidelines to follow when completing the census:

The general rule of thumb is to claim permanent residence in the state in which you are registered to vote. For most out-of-state students, this is where they lived before coming to UNF.

Surveys of students who currently live in on-campus housing should arrive at their permanent addresses; for most, their parents’ houses. They should state their residence as the permanent address.

For those living in apartments off-campus, it would likely be best to claim residence in the apartment building they are currently in, especially if registered to vote in that area.

Will there be a citizenship question?

There has been concern about a potential citizenship question in the survey this year. Many feared that such a question would deter undocumented immigrants from completing the survey, possibly causing undercounts in several communities across the country.

The 2020 Census will not inquire about citizenship.

After a months-long court battle, the Supreme Court ruled against President Trump’s administration and banned the question from going on the Census.

Other legal issues in the 2020 Census

Earlier in January, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued the Census Bureau claiming that its preparations for the Census were “conspicuously deficient.”

The NAACP cited in its suit that a lack of funding and the Bureau not hiring enough people combined with the already expected low participation will lead to severe undercounts, especially in largely minority districts.

The Census Bureau is currently hiring

To tackle their alleged lack of preparation, the Bureau plans to hire as many as 500,000 people. This includes as many as 2,700 jobs in the Jacksonville area.  Jobs include census takers who go door-to-door to conduct interviews and office personnel who will likely gather data and conduct interviews by phone. Although the census rolls out today, the Census Bureau is still hiring “temporary part-time employees.”

Pay rates range between $16 and $17.50 per hour and Professor Binder describes the opportunity as a “lifetime learning experience.”

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