In the past few months, the United States has encountered several issues while dealing with a pandemic of COVID-19. The most recent complication began May 25, when a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd while arresting him. After his death, the social climate of the United States erupted in flames. All 50 states have been subject to protests, which have been violent and nonviolent, calling for radical change. These riots seem like just another domino to have fallen in the year 2020. This year has been full of unexpected crises, slowly making the nation lose focus on one of the year’s most important events: the census. The census is and has been one of American democracy’s cornerstones; without the census, the American government would not stand for its people’s will. The decennial census was mandated in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution in 1790. Some of the (primary) products of the gathered census data are federal districting, resource allocation and national representation. The main goal is to count the entire population; however, sizable portions of the total American population are undercounted every time the census occurs. According to the Census Bureau, the population count’s inaccuracy could range between 0.27 percent 1.22 percent, which signifies a theoretical range between 900,000 and 4 million uncounted people. In light of an inevitable undercount, local, state and national governments all began pushing educational programs to educate the population to reduce the undercount. Educating the community is the most effective way to fight against the undercount. These efforts are paramount, but as a result of the pandemic and a constantly changing news cycle, the efforts to educate the population about the census have been placed on the back burner.
It is time to resume talking about the census because it is more important now than ever. The data the census acquired in 2010 has been the foundation for funding the government and assisting disaster relief (this means the 2010 data was used to aid the government in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic). This means that an accurate count of a population will be reflected in communities through better funding. For example, non-English speaking individuals are a hard-to-count population. If these individuals are not properly counted, then their local hospitals will not be adequately equipped with translators, local health campaigns will not translate to other languages, and there will not be enough funding centered around helping hard-to-count populations. This miscounting may not have the most immediate consequences. Still, in the time of a pandemic, hospitals must be well equipped to handle and care for the entirety of their population. More hard-to-count populations include people of color, children under five years old, renters, overcrowded households, single-parent households, immigrants, low-income populations and people living in multi-family housing. All of these populations are predisposed to need government assistance compared to other populations, which is why the accurate collection of their size is necessary to fund local and state governments adequately.
The data collected is so crucial because it aids local and state governments in fighting against COVID-19. The data allows the government to see the ages of the population within a particular area. Since age is such a factor in the COVID-19 death rates, accurate preventative measures can be taken as a result of precise data. Additionally, COVID-19 has been seen to affect populations of lower socioeconomic statuses, which again are some of undercounted groups. To fight against public health crises, useful data is necessary to produce accurate conclusions, which is why the accuracy of the 2020 Census is paramount.
Sadly, COVID-19 is no longer the only public health crisis the United States is facing. On June 8, Marion County declared racism as a public health crisis and has encouraged other counties to do the same. Research shows that one’s skin color can affect the status of one’s health. The effect of skin color on health is deeply connected to the social determinants of health. The social determinants of health include economic stability, social and community context, neighborhood and environment, health care and education. They are all factors that affect the health of individuals and communities. Data has demonstrated communities of color experience the negative end of the social determinants of health more often, which negatively affects their health outcomes. The declaration of racism as a public health crisis accompanies an expectation to collect data on governmental hiring, contracting, purchasing, etc. in light of race. As this data is collected, the need for an accurate census also increases. The census data will create a necessary denominator of the population. To make any conclusion about the way racism affects minority populations, there must first be an accurate count of minority populations.
In times like these, it is easy to forget about what was initially planned for the future. The 2020 census needs to find its way back into the spotlight in local politics, because without increased education of the population; the census will not be accurate. The U.S. has been given more time to complete the census because the original July deadline has been extended to October. Luckily, the 2020 census will be the first to primarily rely upon the use of the internet for enumeration, which means it will not be affected by social distancing. In order to begin properly fighting and reacting to public health crises, the 2020 census must be completed and as accurate as possible. To find out more information on how to take the census, visit https://my2020census.gov.
Ethan Hurt, Wabash College ‘23, is an intern with the Montgomery County Health Department.