Tag Archives: My Black Counts

Where Do I Fit In?

Dr. Hamoud Salhi  was excited about completing his very first US census form. As a professor of political science, he understood why the decennial mattered. He had studied census processes in Algeria, his country of origin, and currently teaches ‘cultural pluralism’ to American students at California State University, where he is an Associate Dean.

Dr.Hamoud Salhi

And yet, when Dr. Salhi began filling out his 2020 Census form, he grew puzzled.

As a person of MENA origin, “I was ready to “express my identity and see where I fit.” said Dr. Salhi.

But the census form fell short of his expectations.

Its list of ‘self-identification’ options did not offer criteria that Dr. Salhi felt matched his own racial and ethnic credentials. In some ways it seemed like a lost opportunity to express his identity.

“Am I white, Arab or African American?” he questioned. “Where do I fit in?”

Dr. Salhi voiced his concerns at a telebriefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services and supported by the California Complete Count on May 13, to understand why people from the MENA region (with roots in Middle East & North Africa), are not separately classified in the enumeration.

The discussion examined why individuals like Dr. Salhi, with MENA origins, struggle to assert their identity in the census.

“The concept of MENA is very complex,” said Dr. Salhi, adding that census language and terms have not kept up with the diversity of the MENA community which represents more than 11 racial and ethnic groups .

In 2015, when the AAI appealed to the census to include MENA as a category in 2020Census, it included all 22 member states of the Arab League and various transnational groups in its definition of MENA. But the Census Bureau rejected that classification in 2018, citing the need for more research.

Without a MENA category, Dr. Salhi was perplexed.

Should he check “white’, the classification historically afforded to people of Arab descent?

Or ‘Northern African’ – a French construct for colonized  Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, that excludes Egypt and Libya from that geography.

Should he opt for ‘African American’ because he straddles both continents as an American with Algerian roots, even though the term with its controversial racial origins does not truly represent him?

Though the Census Bureau asserts that its questions on race and ethnicity are based on how people ‘self-identify,’ and, that its race categories “generally reflect social definitions in the U.S,” it uses language and definitions that confuse the distinction between race, ethnicity, and geographic origin.

These blurred distinctions make it challenging for some respondents, including those of MENA origin, to ‘self-identify’ and provide an accurate demographic representation of themselves.

“There is no sense in how the census defines race and ethnicity that is acceptable academically,” says Dr. Salhi.

Race is not about self-identification as “it is usually associated  with biological and physical differences,” he explained, and ethnicity is more about self-identification.

“You self-identify who you are by your culture and how you relate to that culture.”

In another twist, by associating ethnicity to Hispanic origin, the census further complicates the concept of ethnicity, says Dr. Salhi. “Is my ethnicity is defined by whether I’m Hispanic or not?”

“The options do not describe accurately where I fit in,”  he says. Instead, Dr. Salhi offers a simple solution to resolve the issue.

“What about a straight-forward question – ‘What is your ethnicity?’ and “simply list the categories.”

Dr. Loubna Qutami

Dr. Salhi’s question represents “a struggle that’s a 100 years old” said Dr. Loubna Qutami, a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Department, who shared a historical overview of the MENA story in America.

Arab immigrants began petitioning the US courts to be legally classified as white in the US census in the 1920s, she explained, not because they saw themselves as white, but because they realized that being white was rooted in power distribution and privilege.

“Whiteness was tied to eligibility for citizenship, eligibility for property ownership, and for having certain political and human rights.”

However, the census evolved after the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s to serve a different purpose. No longer was it used to differentiate between the rights of people based on their race; instead, the census became a tool to achieve social justice.

“By closing gaps in equality between communities,”  said Dr. Qutami, census data began to inform how public monies were allocated to neighborhoods, schools, and community-based organizations to create a more equal society.

Unfortunately, being classified as white meant that MENA communities were losing out on funding that was being given to other minority communities.

So Arab advocacy groups  (The Arab American Institute, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, ACCESS, and other grassroots organizations) began advocating for census reclassification to help MENA communities prove their demographic count and become eligible for funding.

But reclassification has proved elusive.

The MENA designation did not appear on the 2010 census, and, though the Obama administration in 2015 considered including the MENA category in the 2020 Census, it was denied by Karen Battle  from the Census Bureau in a public announcement.

This setback compounded other problems that Arab Americans have had to contend with said Dr. Qutami. Anti-Arab sentiment which was sparked by the events of September 11, began to increase  after the Trump administration’s xenophobic immigration policies and travel ban. As a result, MENA communities feel dis-invested in participating in something like the census.

“There’s no trust in the state” says Dr. Qutami. Instead, there exists a legitimate fear that census data will be weaponized against Muslim communities for surveillance.

However, Arab American advocacy groups  are continuing to pressure the  Census Board for greater visibility and self-identification on the census, while grassroots organizations are investing in outreach efforts to mobilize MENA constituencies and encourage their participation in the enumeration.

Participating in the decennial will help determine who comes from a MENA background, what the neighborhoods are, who‘s living below the poverty line, who’s eligible for food stamps, and who’s struggling with access to benefits, says Dr. Qutami, who has relied on the America Community Survey and her own research to collect this data.  A key outcome of a more accurate count is that it could enable MENA communities achieve the political representation necessary to contest longstanding discriminatory policies, and access the public resources and benefits they need.

“Participating in census will help us on a collective level,” said Dr. Qutami, as including a MENA classification in the census will better reflect the cultural pluralism of our increasingly diverse society.

It’s a two pronged approach that the MENA community hopes will pay off in the next census.

For Dr. Salhi, it may mean another ten years before he can self-identify on the census by simply checking off a single option.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.


Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash




What Determines Your Needs? Data!

Jeffrey Enos of the Census Bureau

Every 10 years, the US census takes a snapshot count of every person who lives in the United States, as of April 1st. According to 2015 data, more than 80% of total federal funds received by California was related to the census. Since Federal funds support more than one-third of California’s total spending, it is very important that California has an accurate count.


Updated data from the 2020 census will affect funding for a wide range of state programs including Medicaid, Medi-Cal, Section 8 housing vouchers, highway construction, school lunch programs, and special education, among many others.

India Currents talked with Jeffrey Enos – Deputy Regional Director, Los Angeles Region, U.S. Census Bureau, about the scope and relevance of the census for our state.

What is at stake for California and all Americans with the Census 2020?

Hundreds of billions of dollars every single year is distributed to communities across the country based on census data. We only do the census, once every 10 years. So, we are talking about trillions of dollars, distributed to communities across the country, every decade based on the census count. And we have one chance to get the census right and so, it’s very important that everyone is counted so that first of all, all of our communities receive all of the federal funding that they deserve and they need to move forward.

Secondly, census data determines representation at all levels of government. For the state of California, within the house of representatives, the number of representatives allocated to each state is based on the census figure. Additionally, in state government, the number of representatives for each area is based on census figures and then you can take it down to a lower level of geography; at the local area, looking at school district boundaries, voting districts, etc.

Additionally, local leaders use census data, census statistics, census count, etc. to determine needs for their community. Where is the young population growing? Where do we need new schools? And where is the population aging? Where do we need additional services for seniors? Where do we need new hospitals? Where is the infrastructure, roads, bridges? Where is the population expanding so that we need new roads? Where do we need to expand mass transit etc?

So many decisions by leaders in our communities, leaders of our cities, leaders of our state of California, and our national leaders, use census data. The census data allows them to make informed, educated decisions.

How has the participation been so far?

So far, California’s participation rate is very encouraging. The self-response rate is (59.6%) for the state and that is actually higher than the national numbers, so that is very encouraging. But we have a long way to go because we want to get to 100%.

So, there is still a lot of work to do to get the word out to get people to self respond. The Bay Area is making great progress, many of the counties are above 60% already.

(As of May 9, the self-response rate in Santa Clara is 68.2%, San Mateo is 69.1%, Alameda – 65.8%, San Francisco – 56.6%)

Do areas with more people of color have a lower response rate?

There are many different variables that impact self-response, for example: households that don’t speak English as their first language or don’t speak English well, households that have immigrants, lower-income households, renters. There are many different variables that impact self-response based on decades and decades of censuses and years and years of research. So, those are some of the major variables that have correlation as far as self-response rates.

What are the deadlines to self-report? When will the enumerators start going door to door?

The deadline for self-reporting has been moved to Oct 31st (from July 31st). Oct 31 st is the final deadline for all responses, including self-response and the field responses that we do.

Later this summer, in August, is when we will send out our census takers to interview those households that have not returned their census questionnaire yet. So, that does not preclude people from filling out their census after we knock on their door but obviously we want to encourage as many households as possible to fill out their census now so that we minimize the need to go door to door and face-to-face, especially under the pandemic conditions.

How do you ensure somebody is not counted twice? What if the enumerator comes to the door and someone in the household has filled out the form online?

There is a 12 digit unique code for each address and that’s how we pull up addresses for our field workload. Once we get a response from that unique ID, we will not go to that household.

There was a lot of confusion earlier with talk of the additional citizenship question in the census, which has since been removed. But the question remains, who is counted in the census?

We count everyone living or staying in the United States as of April 1st, 2020. We don’t ask immigration status, we don’t ask citizenship status either. I want to let you know, the census is safe to fill out. We don’t ask those questions, and also we cannot share this census information, individual census records.

We are restricted by Title 13 of the US Code, which is a federal statute that states that we cannot share individual census records with any government agency, any private or public company or organization, or individual for that matter. As far as the census record, we cannot share the data with the IRS, we can’t share with immigration, we can’t share with housing authorities to name a few as an example.

What else should our readers know about the Census2020?

The census is simple, its 10 questions, its less than 10 minutes. You can go online 2020census.gov or call our toll free number, 8443302020 or you can fill out the paper form and send it in.

The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories, whether you are a citizen, legal resident, or otherwise.

Complete your 2020 Census today.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Edited by Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

Photo by Laura Dewilde on Unsplash

How’s My College Kid Counted in the Census?

It struck me all of a sudden when I was filling out the census form online.  I have a son who is in college and does not live at home, most of the year.  Do I count him in my household when I fill out the census form?  After all, campus housing is temporary, isn’t it?  

Well, it all depends where he was living on April 1, typically (with a caveat that nothing about this year is normal). 

How is the college student counted?

As it happens, every college or university is responsible for providing the Census Bureau with a total count of students living in university-run housing, which may include fraternities and sororities. Many schools transmit this information electronically using their housing administrative records.

If the college student had been in a dorm on April 1 this year, they would get counted through the regular process that Universities have with the census bureau.  If they lived in off-campus housing, they would need to fill out a form for that household with all the people with whom they live.  

According to the Census Bureau’s Official Residence Criteria for the 2020 Census, college students will be counted at their “usual residence” on April 1, 2020 or where they live and sleep “most of the time.”

Why is the census important to college students?

Knowing where college students live has a big impact for universities and colleges and the towns they are located in.  College students benefit from Federal student loans, local and state legislation, campus funding, campus improvements, and health and social services. Officials use the Census to ensure public safety, provide health care, and improve schools and hospital facilities.

What if you have made a mistake when filling the form?

If a mistake was made and the student was counted at the parent’s house, you can resubmit your Census form online.  The census bureau is confident that there is no problem with a duplicate submission because they have ways of sorting duplicates and getting the right information. 

What about other types of students?

Boarding-school students below the college level should be counted at the home of their parents or guardians. 

Students (high school or college) who are living at home should be counted at their home address.

Children ages 0-5 are often undercounted because people mistakenly think that kids so young shouldn’t be counted, or if the kids are often cared for by someone else other than their parents. All children are to be counted wherever they live most of the year.

Do we do things differently this year under COVID conditions?

The Census which is taken every ten years,  is a “snapshot” of the country on April 1 under normal conditions.  For that reason, the Census Bureau wants all college students to be counted at the address where they normally would have been living, if COVID had not happened. 

What about international students?

High school or college students who are living or studying abroad outside the United States on April 1, 2020, are not counted in the census. Foreign students living and attending school in the United States should be counted at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time.

I am glad that I stopped to do a little bit of  research before I filled out my census form.  I will not add my son to our household in California, but instead, he will be counted by his University on the other side of the country.  As long as everyone is counted, it all works out in the end.

The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories, whether you are a citizen, legal resident or otherwise.  

Complete your 2020 Census today.  Visit 2020census.gov

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

Putting Rumors to Rest in the Headcount

Fact vs Falsehood

A recent rumor making the rounds on social media told Americans that going to  2020census.gov and filling out their census forms would make them eligible for a stimulus check during the coronavirus emergency.

While it’s true that the federal government passed a $2 trillion relief package to help unemployed workers affected by the pandemic, census responses are not tied to the stimulus package.

The rumor is unfounded, says the Census Bureau, like the surfeit of posts circulating on social media that falsely claim the census will demand citizenship and social security numbers, request money and donations, ask about political party preference and extract bank and credit card details.

Falsehoods like these say census officials, misinform people and lead them to make decisions that can imperil the decennial and the accuracy of the national headcount.

The implications are severe – people who refuse to participate because they fear the falsehoods, could lose millions of dollars in federal funding for their families and communities, and the opportunity for fair representation in Congress after the count.

Troubleshooting & Discrediting Rumors

“The rise of digital and social media use has exponentially increased the speed of how accurate and inaccurate information can spread,” said Stephen Buckner, assistant director for communications at the U.S. Census Bureau. “We know that many people may not know what the census is because it happens only every 10 years, making it a likely target for misinformation and disinformation campaigns, which is why we’ve been actively preparing to defend against them.”

The Census Bureau has set up a Trust & Safety Team to prevent the spread of fake, false and inaccurate information, that can negatively impact census participation.

“If people get the wrong information about the 2020 Census — intentionally or unintentionally — it poses a problem for all of us,” writes Dr. Ron S. Jarmin, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the  U.S. Census Bureau. His team will ‘actively fight’ the spread of misinformation (incorrect information spread unintentionally) and disinformation (incorrect information spread intentionally), to protect the count.

Fear, Frauds and Scams

Unfortunately, the social channels the census uses to promote the count are the same ones through which fraudsters and other ‘malicious sources‘ share misinformation or disinformation in attempts to dissuade people from responding, say census officials, which can lead to an undercount.

A recent post on FB falsely claimed that people posing as “officials from the Department of Home Affairs were going door-to-door to verify that everyone has a valid ID” for the 2020 census, reports Factcheck.org.

It’s a hoax say census officials, that could negatively impact the count, like fear of the citizenship question still does.

Concerns about the  citizenship question on the census sparked confusion and fear, especially among immigrants and people of color who are among hard-to-count populations say census officials; even after the Supreme Court rejection,  some commentators  on social media continued to push for its inclusion, arguing that undocumented immigrants should not be included in the count.

Debunking the Rumors

The bureau is partnering with social media platforms, community organizations, advocacy groups and the public, to dispel rumors, identify phony information and swiftly respond with factual content as needed.

Putting Rumors to Rest

On its official website  the Census Bureau provides FAQs to counteract popular myths about the census.

Warnings caution the public not to cooperate with anyone who claims to be from the Census Bureau and asks for information by email or phone .

Facts debunk a theory that the bureau will send unsolicited emails to request census participation.

An alert advises people to avoid phishing scams and fake websites that could be infected by malware, as valid Census Bureau websites will always have “.gov” at the end.

Stop  misinformation from spreading

The public can email the Census Bureau at [email protected] to report rumors about the 2020 census or call the Hotline at 1-800-923-8282 to report suspicious activity.

“It’s really, really important that we do it right,” Buckner said in a Facebook Live session. “There are no do-overs, so when the numbers are out, there’s a 10 year process until the next count.”


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Call In Or Callback – It’s Your Call!

With Covid-19 hot on its heels, the census won’t come knocking at your door, but you can call it in by phone or get help by dialing into a call center. There always is the option of mailing in the questionnaire or sending in an online response. But a face-to-face interaction with a census taker is unlikely anytime in the near future.

It was not meant to be this way.

When the Census Bureau kicked off its 2020 campaign with a master plan ten years in the making, to address undercounts, hard to reach populations and going digital – the one challenge no master plan could have anticipated was a pandemic that swept across the nation, disrupting and delaying the possibility of an accurate census count.

Census takers were set to go-door-door in late May to track down people who had not responded to the initial2020 Census invitation or to the follow up paper reminders. However, field operations were dialed back as the coronavirus wrecked every best laid plan across the nation.

Despite the turmoil caused by the coronavirus, more than 50 percent of American households have responded to their initial invitations, with Minnesota leading the national response rate. California currently ranks among the top three states with a response rate of 51.7%; of the 7,8000,000 Californian households that self-responded to the census invitation, 46.8% used the Internet.

But, with COVID-19 upending plans for in-person follow-up of people who have not responded or who live in hard to count areas, census takers will not be knocking on doors or holding community campaigns to get that decennial count. The danger of community spread inherent in face-to-face interactions and public gatherings is forcing organizers to cancel promotional events. Instead the Census Bureau will revise schedules, delay key deadlines and offer alternate options to ensure a complete head count

Under adjustments to the operational plan, census field activities will resume after June 1 this year, while the self-responses timeframe for online, phone and mail data collection has been extended till end October.

This means that people who have no internet access but still need assistance with the questionnaire, or who want to complete the census by phone, can dial the Census call centers for help. However,  callers may experience increased call wait times after the census bureau implemented social distancing measures and staffing adjustments to protect call center staff, in response to federal guidelines.

So, the anticipation of high call volumes has spurred the Census Bureau to restore a callback option which it had temporarily deactivated due to staffing adjustments. With the reinstated call back option callers can leave a message (preferred phone number and time of day for a return call) and receive a timely call back from a census taker to process their Census response..

Currently the callback option is available in seven languages – English, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. As of April 14, the callback option is available in seven more languages – Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese and Tagalog.

The Census Bureau also offers live customer service representatives supporting direct phone lines to 14 languages Monday through Friday from 8am to 10 pm Eastern Time:

To complete the questionnaire by phone, call 844-330-2020 or contact the Public Information Office at 301-763-3030 or [email protected]

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.


image: Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Who’s Ahead And Who’s Behind In CA’s Census Response?

Less than a month after the first invitations to participate in the 2020 census were mailed out, 44.8% of California’s known households have completed the questionnaire, putting the Golden State just slightly behind the country’s 45.1% rate. This despite the fact that California has 11 million people considered “hard to count” — the most of any state.

California budgeted $187.3 million for census outreach efforts to get everyone counted. It’s ahead of New York, which also dedicated tens of millions to outreach efforts. Texas, by comparison, made no statewide expenditures.

With counting set to continue into August, California at 41.8% ranks 20th in how many households have filed by Internet. The national rate (2020census.gov/en/response-rates.html#) for Internet responses  — the Census Bureau’s preferred response methodology — currently is 39.9%.

But the San Francisco Bay Area leads the way in California’s overall response. Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties all have responded above 50% so far. In 2010, those four counties all outdid the state’s 68.2% overall response rate.

San Francisco, both a county and a city, has a 41.9% response rate that’s slightly higher than the city of Fresno’s 41.5% and tops Los Angeles’ 34.4%, but trails Sacramento (45.7%), San Diego (48.8%) and San Jose (51.1%).

Nationwide, most major urban areas are responding below their states’ rates. New York City comes in at 33.9% in a state reporting at 38.3%. Houston’s 37.1% trails Texas’ 39%, Chicago’s 38.6% trails Illinois’ 48.5%, Atlanta’s 39.6% trails Georgia’s 41.5%, and St. Louis, at 36.8%, similarly trails Missouri’s 43.6%.

Major cities also typically are more challenging to enumerate. In California, that’s holding true for San Francisco and Los Angeles, but besides San Diego and San Jose , Oakland and Berkeley, too, both at 49.2% are also doing better than the state as a whole.

East Palo Alto is out-reporting Beverly Hills, 36.35% to 34.2%, but neither is as strong as San Bernardino, 40.3% or Riverside, 45.5%. All four cities hit above 60% in 2010.

As in 2010, California’s lowest response rates are coming from the counties along the Nevada border. In Sierra County, just west of Reno, only 4.9% have responded so far. In 2010, when only 44.1% of that county’s households responded, it ranked as the state’s second-most underpopulated county. Alpine County had the state’s lowest record 10 years ago, with just a 20.2% response rate. So far this year, it’s at 9.8%.

Trinity, another trouble spot, shows 5% responding, nearly all using the Internet. In Lake County, it’s the reverse — a 27.2% response rate with only 18.5% using the Internet. Within Mendocino’s 31.7% response rate, 25.7% is by Internet.

The Central Valley is another story. In 2010, every county from Sacramento to Riverside reported at rates of at least 63%. So far in 2020, Madera County’s 36.8% is bringing up the rear. Kern County is at 39.3%, King’s at 39.4%, Tulare’s at 39.5%, Merced’s at 39.8%, and San Bernardino, Fresno and Riverside are at 40.4%, 41.6% and 42.2% respectively. Sacramento County is at 48.7%.

But some counties are much more populous than others. Even if Riverside County, the fourth-most populous in the state, ultimately reports at 80%, the number of people still not counted will exceed the entire population of Alpine County to the north.

When it comes to the census’ first-ever use of the Internet as a way to be counted, the Central Valley has so far trended more toward using mail and telephone methods than have other regions of the state. The Internet is still the primary way people respond, but in Sacramento County, 2.1% of households have used other ways. In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, it’s 4.1% and 4.7%, respectively, and 8% or more in Fresno, Kern and Merced counties and 10.7% in Tulare.

The census is not yet reporting on response rates based on ethnicity, but Indian Country, with 100 state-recognized reservations or rancherias in California alone, shows there is much to be done — rates are neither strong nor consistent.

The Table Bluff Rancheria boasts a 31.5% response rate, after totaling 38.2% in 2010, and Trinidad Rancheria, at 17.4%, has almost matched its 2010 tally of 19%. But the Tule River

Reservation’s 9.4% response, all Internet, is far below its 48.6% in 2010.

Hoopa Valley is at 3.1%, also all Internet, but the Census Bureau doesn’t report numbers for 2010. Hopland Reservation, at 25.3%, 8.9% via the Internet, hit 37.5% in 2010. Pala’s 3.6% is all Internet, with no data available for 2010.

If yours is a household not yet counted, you can change that by going to: my2020Census.gov or calling (844) 330-2020. Starting in May and continuing through Aug. 14, the Census Bureau will send out enumerators to knock on the doors of households that haven’t responded. The enumerators will visit to get the data that determines, among other things, political representation and up to $1.5 trillion in annual federal spending for more than 300 programs.

Mark Hedin is a reporter for Ethnic Media Services. He has previously written for the Oakland Tribune, the Central City Extra, the San Francisco Chronicle, El Mensajero, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers.

Photo by Joonyeop Baek on Unsplash

Don’t Wait – So Much at Stake if You Don’t Act Now!

Anandavalli Menon is a good citizen. The 56 year old  Indian-American engineer lives in a rural suburb outside Detroit, and by all accounts is a public spirited resident who believes in civic engagement for the common good. She is a church organizer for her community, volunteers at her local soup kitchen on weekends, and delivers dinners to senior citizens now homebound by the coronavirus outbreak. And yet, even a month after it was delivered, Anandavalli has not responded to her 2020 census invitation.

Though Michigan is among the midwestern states leading the count with over 50% in self-response rates, Anandavalli’s home is one of 64 million households across the nation that likely will receive paper questionnaires. Starting April 8th, the US Census Bureau will try to round up  slackers and count everyone by geographic location, for the 2020 Census.

As a strong influencer in her community, Anandvalli would not quite qualify as a laggard.  In our conversation she maintains that she has every intention of completing the census,  but reluctantly admits to forgetting about responding to the invitation that came in early March.

The first census invitations began to arrive at the nation’s estimated 140 million households between March 12-20. Odds are, that many householders like Anandavalli will have  “….stashed it safely away under the mountain of bills on my desk.”

The Census Bureau beefed up its efforts to increase awareness and participation in the 2020 Census by investing close to $500 million in a robust communications campaign. This multi-lingual initiative began late December 2019 and still continues across the nation’s airwaves and public spaces. It’s had the desired impact on almost 46.2% of all households who’ve already responded online.

But are slackers paying attention to this multi-million dollar crusade?
Census ads pop up everywhere – on television, radio, billboards, and transit stations to the Internet and social media including. Facebook. Twitter and Instagram.

So, how well does a good citizen like Anandavalli Menon understand this critical public initiative? Does she get that it will determine how billions of federal dollars are spent on community infrastructure in her home state?  Does she realize it impacts what representation she could have in Congress? Does she know that Michigan, like 10 other states, is slated to lose seats when congressional districts are  redrawn in December  2020?

Anandavalli was rueful about her ignorance; even so, her answers were surprising.

How often is the census conducted? “…every four or five years?”
It happens every ten years.

What’s the census for? “…other than to count demographics, I’m not sure.”
The census counts everyone in the United States to determine how federal funds will be distributed to states and local communities every year for vital public services and infrastructure, including health clinics, schools, roads and emergency services.

How will you respond to the census? “By  mail. You can respond online? Gosh, I had no idea! ”, and, after a quick online check, “I think I need a 12-digit code. Where’s that?”
You can respond to the census by mail, by phone or online in English plus 12 non-English languages. Your unique Census ID can be found on the letter or questionnaire you receive from the Census Bureau. And you must complete the census in one sitting.

A Pew Research study confirms that most adults like Anandavalli know about the census and say its very important to the country, but are hazy on key details. Though 78% of the people surveyed intended to fill out and submit a census form, only about one-in-five knew they had an online answering option. Many still believe they will be asked about their citizenship or religion. And, Census Bureau research suggests that people who say they intend to participate in the census do not necessarily follow through.

But the census bureau is ready for procrastinators like Anandavalli Menon. Last week it mailed out paper questionnaires as a reminder.

“If you’re among the nearly half of all the nation’s households that have responded already, thank you!” said Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham. “Once you have responded, please encourage your family, friends and loved ones to complete the census too.”

If Anandavalli Menon still does not respond, will a census taker come knocking at her door?
No longer.

From May and July,  the Census Bureau had intended to send out census takers to follow up with non-responsive households. But the coronavirus has stymied efforts to conduct a safe count of the population.

For now, the near-total lockdown of millions of households for the foreseeable future, has put the brakes on any such face-to-face communication efforts as the Census Bureau adapts to the coronavirus outbreak. Some areas where census takers were originally going to hand-deliver forms in person will now receive a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau reminding them to participate.

Census procrastinators need to take action.

The bottom line is – responding now will minimize the need for the Census Bureau to send deputies out into communities to follow up.

Counting yourself into this snapshot of the nation without putting human census takers at risk, should be a compelling enough reason to respond to the census, when compared to putting off a civic obligation that you just may have forgotten about.

For more information on how to safely respond to the 2020 CENSUS, click here.

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.