‘For so long, some of us have been told – in a million big and small ways – that we don’t have a place at the table. We’ve witnessed decades of voter suppression that continues to plague our nation today, but we cannot let the census follow suit by robbing entire communities of our fair shake.’
While so many Americans are glued to the news of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the Supreme Court nomination, and the rising COVID-19 death toll, the Trump Administration has been quietly threatening an incredibly important civic activity, thereby attempting to rob disadvantaged communities of federal funding and electoral representation for the next decade.
Despite the administration’s best efforts to move up the census deadline multiple times — in spite of significant undercounts — a judge has ruled that the 2020 census count will continue through the extended October 31st deadline. So now we must seize this moment and ensure that each and every one of us counts.
The census should be the most inclusive civic activity of our country, counting every person in the nation regardless of race, ethnicity, income bracket, gender identity, and citizenship. And yet, for more than a century, the census has failed to accurately count all of us, especially under-resourced, historically disenfranchised Black communities.
In late July, the Trump Administration shortened the 2020 census deadline a full month to September 30th; this decision closely followed the administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census despite the 14th Amendment’s requirement to include the “whole number of persons in each state.” While federal and district courts denied both attempts, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce has just announced that the counting will end early on October 5th, twenty-six days earlier than promised. This represents yet another display of the systemic racism that wreaks havoc on our democracy and robs communities of color of our power in this nation’s political process.
Communities of color are often referred to as “hard-to-count,” but it’s for good reason that so many marginalized residents take pause at the idea of engaging in a government-mandated headcount. For some, it’s due to an understandable mistrust in government; the president’s recent ploy to discount undocumented immigrants is one worthy example of that bait-and-switch that so many have been conditioned to fear. For others, it’s a language barrier or the fear of an unknown person who looks nothing like them knocking on their door unexpectedly. Or maybe it’s the memory of when we saw our race listed as “Negro,” on the most recent census count in 2010. Or the belief that we inherently don’t count in our political system because we have been ignored or harmed by it for decades.
So here we are with just days left to count every one of us. And it will be no small feat. As of now, it is projected that the census will fail to count as many as 1.5 million Black residents. In New York City, where 80 percent of communities already experiencing poverty are people of color, we are at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars and two congressional seats, which will have devastating ripple effects for the next ten years and beyond. This is why Robin Hood, New York City’s largest poverty-fighting organization, is prioritizing getting community members counted.
Black communities across the country are already battling devastating challenges due to COVID-19 while shouldering the burdens of the long-overdue national reckoning with racial injustice. An undercount would be a triple blow yielding detrimental effects for generations to come on communities which have already played witness to historical disinvestments.
With budget cuts at the state and city levels of government, an accurate census count holds even more weight to receive vital funding, especially as we recover from the pandemic and continue to fight for racial equity. The census funding supports education, health care, infrastructure, transportation, childcare, and a range of critical social welfare programs that keep our city and our neighborhoods afloat. For a timely example, 2020 census data is likely to be used to determine the number of vaccines or hospital beds a city requires to combat the pandemic.
For so long, some of us have been told – in a million big and small ways – that we don’t have a place at the table. We’ve witnessed decades of voter suppression that continues to plague our nation today, but we cannot let the census follow suit by robbing entire communities of our fair shake.
But each of us is wielding a powerful tool: our ability to be counted, and this year for the first time ever you can complete the census online. Let’s make sure that the 2020 census works as a vehicle to protect and strengthen the well-being of our communities for the next ten years and beyond.
Samantha Tweedy is the chief partnerships and impact officer at Robin Hood, where she leads the organization’s work to marshal capital and attention to the most impactful strategies for lifting families out of poverty.