Every ten years, the United States conducts a “Decennial Census” with the goal of determining the distribution of resources and political representation by counting every person in the country where they live. The census is a complex operation to collect important demographic, social, and economic information, but serves as the country’s only source for reliable nationwide and community-level data. The census is mandated under the Constitution and it is required by law that all people respond, regardless of age or citizenship status. Getting the next census count right is critical, as it will shape our nation’s democracy, public policy and economy moving forward. Key decisions about how the 2020 Census will launch are being made right now, and poor choices could have enormous impacts for all of us in the years to come.
Traditionally, every household receives a census form by mail and is asked to provide information about all members of that household. For residents who do not fill out and submit the census form, census workers or “enumerators” are hired to visit the home and ask for the information directly. When there are a large number of households that do not fill out and submit the census form themselves, the area is considered “Hard To Count (HTC).” Several major challenges of the 2020 Census lie in the Census Bureau’s heightened responsibility to ensure that people are accurately counted. Many groups have been disproportionately underrepresented in the decennial census for decades, including rural households, immigrants, renters, low income households and young children.
People of color, particularly Black and Latino communities, in both urban and rural communities, are at an especially high risk of being undercounted by the census at higher rates than other population groups. Failure to address the trend of undercounting will ultimately deprive historically marginalized communities of vital public and private resources over the next decade.