The 2020 census is on horizon

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Beginning in mid-March 2020, letters will be mailed inviting household members to complete the census online. Follow-up reminders will be mailed to non-responders. Eventually in-person visits will be made to those who have not responded.

By law, the U.S. government is required to count the number of people living in the United States every 10 years. Getting an accurate count is important because census numbers impact daily life in the United States in many ways. Because getting an accurate count is so important, the process is designed to be fast, easy, and safe. On average, it takes no more than 10 minutes to answer the questions on the census.

New uses of technology are transforming the way the U.S. Census Bureau will attempt to count every person in the United States once, only once, and in the right place. It’s a long way from the last decennial census in 2010, when all the questionnaires were on paper and an iPhone 4, early Samsung or HTC cellphone were considered state of the art. Now there is a broad array of social media platforms plus millions more homes now have consistent access to the internet.

The Census Bureau is leveraging cutting-edge solutions and practices that will expand outreach and awareness campaigns. Using tech innovations helps the Census Bureau reach and connect with traditionally hard-to-count populations, which include tech-savvy young and mobile millennials.

Here are some ways the census data are often used:

• How many representatives will be sent to Congress from each state.

• How much federal funding is allocated for projects and services that benefit local communities.

• Many analytical outcomes, such as the country’s population profile, and resource planning gaps.

• Monitoring core areas such as skills development and capacity building.

• Determining the well-being of the U.S. population, including poverty, income and wealth.

• Measuring economic activity, health-related programs and access to services.

• Assessing programs on gender equity.

• Quantifying demographic groups.

• Evaluating housing, health and welfare programs.

• Providing a baseline for other essential statistical information, like electricity supply and demand.

• Delineating electoral districts.

People will identify themselves as either male or female. These data are used to allocate federal funding for hundreds of purposes, including education under the Higher Education Act of 1965 and to enforce rules against gender-based discrimination.

Other data is used to determine where services for women are needed. Women and children are the most undercounted on the census. For services to be adequately and fairly distributed it is vital to be sure women and children are correctly counted.

For example, in 2015 the approximate ratio by which women age 85 and older outnumbered men was 4 million to 2 million, showing that twice as many women as men live beyond 85, and services to this age group should recognize there are more women recipients.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau again revealed that women working full-time, year-round are typically paid only make 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. The industry with the largest gender pay gap was financial activities. Construction was the industry with the smallest gender pay gap, with women earning 92.2% of what men earned.

In fall of 2017, 10.9 million women were enrolled in undergraduate college and graduate school. Women comprised 56.2 percent of all college students (undergraduate and graduate). Thirty-two percent of women aged 25 and older had obtained a bachelor’s degree or more. The census data also shows changes over the years in the occupations of women.

The United States Census is so much more than just a head count. It is a snapshot of America that determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores.

To do all that properly, the count needs to be accurate (the Supreme Court has ruled the question about citizenship will not be on the census).

An undercount of the population would have far-reaching implications. It could skew the results and undermine the integrity of a wide variety of economic data and other statistics that businesses, researchers and policymakers depend on to make decisions, including the numbers that underpin the forecasts for Social Security beneficiaries.

It is imperative that we do everything in our power to make sure that the census includes everyone and is being accurately completed and submitted.

Women’s Watch is a cooperative writing effort of the local chapters of the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women.

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