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The U.S. Census Bureau released results from the 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study (CBAMS). The national survey and series of focus groups attempted to understand the nation’s attitudes toward the 2020 Census and potential barriers that may inhibit participation.

I decided to have my own focus group right here in my house and put the question to the lady who helps me with babysitting and the cab drivers who drive me. Had they heard of the census form and know how to deal with it?

Jasbir, my Punjabi chef and babysitter, and Balbir the cab driver have barely a moment to spare in their busy day. Matriarch of her family, Jasbir works sometimes ten hours days outside her house and then goes home to deal with her household’s needs. She keeps an eye out for the bills in the mail and other matters of urgent importance to the family but did not recall receiving any Census documents. Besides, she said, she assumes the government knows how many people are in her household as they are the ones who issue birth certificates, passports and visas. Balbir and his family had also not given the census much attention.

Jasbir remembered that as she drove through one city after another, the boards announcing each city’s name also had the population of the city listed under it. How, she must have thought, does the city update the board with each birth?

“I don’t really know,” Balbir said, “what the Census means for me.” In India people knocked from door to door and asked the count of each household. In the US the onus to respond to the 2020 Census questionnaire online or by phone is on the residents. Letters inviting people to fill out their forms will begin arriving in mailboxes shortly. Extremely busy people like Jasbir or the cab drivers like Balbir may not pay attention to something that does not immediately impact their pocketbook.

Title 13 of the U.S. Code says that your response is required by law. Can Jasbir and Balbir get into legal trouble if they don’t fill out forms they know little about? Violating the law is a crime, says the website. Anyone who violates this law will face penalties.

Besides every household that completes a census form increases the county’s share of federal money for schools, medical care and other needs.

Originally, the Census was meant to be a way to count everyone so that the members of the House of Representatives could be allocated properly to the states. Census results helped in determining seats in congress, redistricting and the distribution of federal funds.

“Next year’s census is part head count and part power struggle, the most politicized population tally in a century, in which a state’s desire for an accurate count could depend on which party is in charge there,” says New York Times. Democratic California may be more vested in getting a better count of its residents. If the Indian Americans who vote Democratic do not participate, the population count would skew Republican — and so would political maps, based on census results, that legislatures will draw in 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau survey had found that only 33 percent of those surveyed had been “extremely” or “very” familiar with the Census. Knowledge about the purpose and process of the census, they found, was uneven across groups. Jasbir and Balbir definitely fell in the other 67 percent.

How can Jasbir and Balbir be informed of the importance of their response to the census? In the face of absence of door to door knocking census workers and, people who are away at work for the majority of the day any way, ethnic media and houses of worship are possibly the best vehicles to inform them of the importance of filing the census documents that will be dropping into their mailboxes shortly.

This is once in a decade shot to get federal subsidies for crucial services like education and healthcare that are based on the number of people in a community. As law abiding citizens it their duty to fill out Census documents just as it is to vote. This is the way to make their voice count.

Picture: NRI News Today

Ritu Marwah is an avid observer of community affairs. She has a Masters in a branch of Political Science and an MPhil in International Relations.

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