Rebecca Scheer lives in Maplewood and co-chairs SOMA Action’s Census Complete Count Committee.
Months ago, in response to the impact that Covid has had on its outreach, the Census Bureau sensibly chose to prolong its deadlines for counting residents. The Bureau is now in the last phase of its outreach, when workers go door to door to households which have not yet completed their census forms. Last week, the Census Bureau made a disastrous decision to cut this phase short by one month, from October 31 to September 30, crippling its own efforts to meet its constitutionally mandated obligation to count every person living in the United States.
People who are considered “hard to count,” who are reached in this final phase, are some of our most vulnerable, and are the most likely to rely on the very services that the census is used to apportion for, like funding for public services. People reached during this final phase are more likely to be low-income and from communities of color. They are more likely to be immigrants, especially undocumented, and ESL speakers. They are more likely to be young children.
There are actions that we all can take, even when options for community outreach have been so decimated by social distancing. Action is especially imperative in our own area, which includes neighborhoods and entire cities which are some of the most at-risk of being undercounted in the entire country.
Start with schools, one of the most effective ways to reach out to families about all kinds of public service information. A silver lining in the impact of Covid’s delay of Census is that efforts now coincide with the start of the school year. We need to utilize this new timeframe as much as we can, and to use schools as a vehicle to spread the message. Parents, reach out to your principals and to your PTAs. Ask them to incorporate a message about the importance of the Census into their back to school announcements. With all of the new information in this unprecedented start to school, parents will be listening especially closely this year.
Think of what other institutions and community organizations you are a part of. Do you belong to a religious congregation? A book club? Do you volunteer? Use the next month to relay a message to your groups about the importance of the Census.
The impact of an undercount will be felt for the next decade. Let’s make this last month count!