Images of California residents and immigrants hard at work gleamed atop the stack of Census commitment cards that Hope Shinderman ’21 carried from door to door.
Walking through her neighborhood and around school to spread the word and increase participation in the 2020 Census, Shinderman said the images served as a constant reminder of the importance of representing voices across various types of communities.
Every 10 years, a Census is conducted within all 50 states and territories of the United States. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the Census takes a count of the population, which serves as a basis for fair political representation. Participation in the Census is mandatory, as described in Title 13 of the U.S. Code.
Shinderman, a member of the West L.A. Mayor’s Youth Council, said her role as a Census Youth Ambassador has helped familiarize her with the 2020 Census and take a deeper look into its significance.
Hope Shinderman ’21 defines the Census
“The census is essentially gathering information from the head of each residential unit living in the United States and its territories,” Shinderman said. “It is basic information such as the number of people living in a household, the number of people living in a family and gender.”
This year, the Census began collecting data in rural Alaska on Jan. 31. The Census questions are projected to reach the entire country between March 12 to April 30, as stated by the Census Outreach. If a household fails to respond, the Census takers will show up to homes from May 13 to July 31.
Shinderman said that she believes participation is essential because of the crucial role of the Census in determining the political structure of the United States House of Representatives.
“Congressional representation is the biggest benefit coming out of the Census,” Shinderman said. “The reason why it’s important to fill out the Census is that it dictates how many representatives a state has in the [House of Representatives]. For example, in the last census, California lost two representatives because of the Census. So if everyone accurately reports, that means that there is accurate representation [in the House of Representatives] and [the United States population] can more easily get their agendas passed.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Census affects not only politics, but also highway and roadway planning, funding of local schools and programs geared toward supporting human rights programs.
Furthermore, the Census contributes in creating new jobs for the unemployed population in the U.S.
Through the U.S. Census Bureau, thousands of temporary jobs are offered to Americans of all ages, from teens to elderly individuals. The jobs range from Census takers to recruiting assistants, office staffers and supervisory staffers. The bureau offers a solid salary while including flexible hours and offering support to different communities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The controversies within the Census
Although the Census provides benefits to the population, it does not come without controversy. Tatiana Washington ’21 said she thinks that the value of the citizenship question asking if a person is documented or undocumented on the Census is up for debate.
“[The immigrants] might be scared to not even take the census, and states which have a large population of undocumented immigrants would be losing federal aid because these people wouldn’t be counted and they wouldn’t have proportional representation in Congress,” Washington said.
Washington said she also believes that President Donald Trump is taking advantage of his executive power over the Census questions in order to compel immigrants not to participate.
“I think that [adding the citizenship question] made it so that this is a very scary time for immigrants and a lot of people felt like [the question] is another attack from Trump on the state of immigrants and his attempts to alienate people who might not be secure in their standing here in America and to discourage people from immigrating to America,” Washington said.
History teacher and former 2000 Census-taker Christopher Clement said he believes that there will be disagreement in the 2020 Census that are very similar to what he saw 20 years ago.
“The controversies are coming just as they did,” Clement said. “Nothing has changed since 2000 in how people self-describe themselves in terms of race and ethnicity, which was controversy then and it will continue to be a controversy now. The fact is, Census or not, other data shows that the country is changing and its racial and ethnic compositions are changing, and I think there are many who are uncertain and hostile to those demographic shifts, and those who feel that way are trying to find a way to stop the census from collecting what they regard as sensitive data regarding race and ethnicity.”
Clement said he believes that the diverse demographics of California, especially in comparison to other states, create issues regarding representation of certain races and ethnicity in the Census.
“It doesn’t seem like Congress has plans anytime soon to expand the number of seats in the House, so the country has to divide up 425 seats,” Clement said. “Given that reality, as California’s population grows and the population diminishes in other states, it’s going to be controversial. California has one of the most diverse populations in the country, it’s the most populated state in the country and it doesn’t seem likely that many are going to accept a state like that.”
The primary challenge facing the U.S. Census Bureau is the undercounting of certain population groups, according to the California Complete Count Committee. That challenge is amplified in California, where more residents are traditionally hard to count, including foreign-born individuals, renters and those living close to or below the poverty line and children younger than five years old. The Committee said that it is focused on getting responses from residents who are the most difficult to count.
Looking forward, Shinderman said she believes that it is important for students to pay attention to the upcoming Census because it will have a direct impact on their lives in the future.
“Students are not the heads of the households, therefore they cannot directly fill out the Census forms,” Shinderman said. “However, the [people who are of age] are able to vote in elections [and] will have more political representation. When we, as students [are able to vote], then we too will have more representation in the [House of Representatives],” Shinderman said. “However, the seniors who are 18 and able to vote in elections will have more political representation. When we, as students reach adulthood, then we too will have more representation in the house.”