Show up and be counted
For all the clever quips people made at the start of the year about 20/20 vision, no one saw this coming. No one could imagine a global pandemic, a societal reckoning with white supremacy, an economic crisis or certain politicians abusing their power to politicize the U.S. Census and threaten our electoral process. But here we are. Now what are you going to do about it?
How we’re counted in 2020 will shape all of our lives for the next 10 years and beyond. In the United States, we’ve been taught that all we have to do is work hard and everything will be all right. That belief is being tested. It’s clear that we all need to take responsibility for making sure our families and communities are safe. “Democracy is not a state,” late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis wrote in his final op-ed. “It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.” Our ancestors, our communities, our children, our friends and our future selves are counting on us to live up to that promise.
With the Census process, our government is on display, and so are we. Over the next few months we all have a role to play. The self-response rate for Ohio is 69.6%, ranking us 11th in the nation. Our three largest cities' self-response rates sit at 49.5% for Cleveland, 55% for Cincinnati and 62.4% for Columbus and hover just above 52% for cities like Youngstown and Dayton. That leaves a lot of ground for us to cover to ensure everyone counts.
So, how do we show up and be counted? As someone who does Census outreach in low-income, Black and brown communities that are considered “hard to count,” I have reflected on this a bit. Census advocates, community organizers and Census workers are canvasing communities right now and are struggling to meet a shorter timeline. We’re also trying to make sense of the ongoing lawsuits over the Census’s end date before we complete the count. Many face serious barriers to completing the Census in the best of circumstances; an undercount would deprive them of critical federal resources like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that many Ohioans rely on. The Census guides $56 billion to the state of Ohio every year and will guide the process of redistricting that shapes how we are represented by our government for the next decade. It is imperative that this data is accurate so our communities have representation that is both fair and accurate.
The data captured by the Census will be how we are all represented for the next 10 years. At Policy Matters, the decennial census provides the basis of a data set we will rely on for a decade. It helps elected officials guide precious resources, businesses make strategic plans, everyday people make informed decisions and gives think tanks like ours the basis for the data that goes into countless reports, including our recent State of Working Ohio: Reset and Unrig.
Let’s do our part to make sure every person and every vote counts. If we say we’re in this together - neighbors taking care of neighbors - there are some simple ways to do that. Complete the Census and be a voter. But don’t stop there. For those who can take a more active role, you can call your neighbors, volunteer for a local Census event, help others vote safely and work at a polling location on Election Day. This year, and many after, will be marked by how we rise to these challenges. If you believe in our democracy, there is a job for you.