Officials at the local level, the state level and from the U.S. Census Bureau tried to drive home two main points on Monday during a 2020 census kickoff event that included the county commissioners proclaiming it Carroll County Census Awareness and Complete Count Committee Day: Counting everyone is important for Carroll monetarily and politically, and census data is confidential.
The census is, of course, required by the Constitution and has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. The Census Bureau has moved into the 21st century and is using technology to assist in the count. For the first time, people living in the United States can complete the census online or via telephone as well as the tried and true method of the U.S. mail.
Why is it important that everyone be counted? If nothing else, follow the money. Every year, the federal government allocates more than $675 billion in funding based on census data, Ronald Brown, U.S. Census Bureau partnership coordinator for Maryland, said.
“Working with the state, we have learned that for every person missed, that represents approximately $1,820 per person,” Brown said. “Over a 10-year period of time, you’re talking about $18,000 that could be missed based on a person being missed in Maryland.”
In addition to those funds, census data determines how many representatives each state has in Congress and will inform the redrawing of congressional district boundaries. Redistricting has been a hot topic in Maryland with Gov. Larry Hogan pushing for a nonpartisan committee to redistrict and put an end to the gerrymandered Maryland map. To properly and proportionately redistrict for the long term it will be important to have an accurate count of how many people live in Carroll and all counties.
According to the bureau, census data helps local government make decisions affecting school construction and transportation projects, and economic development as well as public health, public safety and emergency planning. A complete count could also help businesses project growth, identify workers, learn about the customer base and provide the basis for grants.
“You can stand on almost any street in this country and demonstrate something that was funded through the use of census data,” Maryland Census Director Audra Harrison said Monday.
Regardless of how important it is to be counted, however, census officials know many will be wary and won’t want to participate out of fear of what the government will do with the information acquired. The census form consists of 10 questions, which should take no more than 15 minutes to fill out, according to Harrison. The questions are on topics such as age, race, sex and citizenship — and that citizenship question, in particular, could be a reason some won’t want to participate.
Brown repeatedly noted that data is collected for statistical purposes only, will be kept confidential for 72 years and that all Census Bureau employees swear a lifetime oath to protect respondent data. In fact, all census information is protected by law in Title 13 of the U.S. Code with any violations punishable by up to five years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
“We do not share with anyone outside of the Census Bureau,” Brown said. “Yes, we will share the population numbers and how the populations have changed in communities. But we don’t share any personal identifiable information with anyone, not with the FBI, not with ICE, not with the IRS, not with the social service departments.”
So no one is getting arrested, deported or hit with fines based on census data. There’s no downside to completing the form — online, over the phone, or through the mail — while there’s a pretty compelling case showing serious downside for failing to. Go to www.census.gov for more information.