Started in 1790, the U.S. Census is a once-in-ten-year opportunity to count the entire U.S. population. Because the census determines the distribution of federal tax money to local communities, the allocation of resources for infrastructure, education and more directly depends on everyone’s participation. During Census 2020, it’s especially important that historically undercounted communities respond, since this will determine their resources for a decade.
With the first invitations to respond to the census being mailed out on March 12, issues surrounding the census were the topic of our latest episode of Both Sides of the Bars, “The 2020 Census: Stand and Be Counted!” The Fortune Society’s Andre Ward interviewed Kathleen Daniel, Field Director of NYC Census 2020, about the importance of engaging historically undercounted populations in the census.
People impacted by the criminal justice system are often undercounted due to fear and mistrust. Immigrants, undocumented people, and those transitioning from confinement to community may be reluctant to open their doors to census workers due to negative, often traumatic experiences with the government.
Although this fear is understandable, said Kathleen, there is no reason to avoid participating because census workers are prohibited from using this information for anything other than population count. Kathleen further explains that the Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code, which eliminates loopholes to ensure the census is only used for statistical purposes. She adds that any breach of confidentiality under Title 13 by census employees is a federal crime.
In the second half of the episode, Andre and Kathleen also shed light on the citizenship question, which will not appear on the census form, contrary to attempts to include it by the federal government.
Filling out the census is especially critical for people with justice involvement, many of whom come from underserved communities. Being counted is crucial to gain access to their fair share of an estimated $880 billion in federal tax dollars. This funding determines the quality of schools, representation in the government, as well as roads and bridges, all of which help their communities thrive. So, the census is “the biggest form of giving back to the community.”
This is why Kathleen views her work counting everyone in the census as a social justice movement.