The upcoming 2020 census is important. Damned important!
Given that fact, why are a full one-third of Americans saying they may not fill out forms or answer the questions or are only “somewhat likely” to do so? (See above graph.)
The U.S. Census Bureau has been polling and using focus groups to determine how close we’re likely to get to a nearly complete count next year. And if we don’t, why not? It’s an effort to understand citizen attitudes about the census, what potential barriers to participation are out there and what motivations are for those who don’t intend – or are unlikely – to respond.
The survey reached a national sampling of about 50,000 homes. With a 35-percent response rate, results are well-above an average sample return size and considered reliable. The Bureau also conducted 42 focus group sessions in 14 cities. Every attempt was made to include hard-to-count populations such as racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speaking, those with low Internet proficiency, young people who move frequently, rural communities and other populations at low risk of response. Pretty comprehensive effort.
Bottom line, here’s what was learned.
Two-thirds of responders are “extremely likely” or “very likely” to fill out the census form. But, at the same time, many people said they were unfamiliar with the census process with only about a third being “extremely” or “very familiar.”
Five main barriers were found that might prevent people from participating. In order, they were: privacy concerns about data/confidentially; fear of repercussions of some sort (probably regarding residency status); feeling the whole census“doesn’t matter;” distrust in ALL levels of government; belief that completing the census forms might not “benefit me personally.” To me, those last two are sad commentaries on what parts our society have become in some quarters.
Another disturbing finding was this. While funding for public services was a top motivator in respondents, less than half knew the census results were used to determine that community funding. Seems sort of a mental contradiction there.
The Census folks have decided on several steps to deal with issues uncovered in their outreach efforts.
Probably the most expensive (this is government, after all) is the need for an extensive PR campaign (lots of paid advertising, individual mailing and the like) to tell a wide audience of the importance of both the census and its needed participation. Second, there’s a necessity to reach out to the younger population to explain what census taking is, what the process involves and why it’s important for them to be counted. (Secondary teachers and college instructors take note.)
The Bureau also intends to involve local communities to explain how census results benefit them now and in the future. There’ll be an effort to get local leaders to participate in advance publicity.
It’s also apparent just addressing expressed concerns about data collection and privacy alone will not necessarily mitigate those issues. While much of the ad campaign will feature reassurances about privacy and confidentiality, inside the Bureau, it’s not widely believed those worried about such things will be assuaged. Another commentary about the society we live in.
None of the head-counting importance is lost on politicians of all stripes. Legislative and congressional district representation is largely determined by the numbers. Small states like Idaho, Nevada and Utah could see an increase in congressional representation. And, the numbers could greatly influence state legislative districts. Especially if we can draw new lines with some impartial integrity. In other words, put an end to politicians gerrymandering for their own interests and third-party panels using the most reliable statistics available.
Yes, the ten-year count is important. Very important! Which is why that nearly one-third of Americans being “unlikely” or “unwilling” to take part is so discouraging.
One other note: none of the sampling dealt with the unwarranted attempt by the Trump administration to stick a citizenship question into the census-taking. At the moment, a federal judge has blocked use of such a query. But, you can bet the issue is far from dead.