Full disclosure: I am a data-junkie and I love being able to understand the larger issues impacting people’s lives. I studied Economics in college, so I spent time poring over data sets trying to find trends and causal relationships between income levels and behaviors. In that process, I realized something frustrating. Sometimes, there just isn’t any data. Either the question has never been asked, or the people surveyed aren’t the ones you are trying to understand. The bottom line is: research is often limited by the data available. This is troubling because research is what drives our world’s decisions and funding, and usually the people who need resources the most, have the least ability to quantify their needs and get that information in front of decision makers.
This is why I feel so strongly about the Census. The Census is one of the best opportunities for those who are struggling with broken, underfunded systems, and get that information into the hands of policy makers. But, unfortunately, misconceptions about the Census persist, especially regarding the safety of taking the Census, therefore I wanted to share just how private the Census is and how guarded personal information is. Specifically, these 7 privacy rules give me confidence to fill out my census:
Census workers (at all levels) are sworn to a LIFETIME of secrecy. It is a felony to disclose info, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000 (https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/factsheets/2019/comm/2020-confidentiality-factsheet.pdf).
Census records are only published 72 years after the Census was taken (https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2019/comm/history-privacy-protection.html).
The Census asks for names only to ensure people are not double-counted (https://www.prb.org/why-are-they-asking-that-what-everyone-needs-to-know-about-2020-census-questions/).
Census address lists are confidential information that cannot be shared (https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2019/comm/history-privacy-protection.html).
The Census Bureau Director cannot grant an exception to the Census disclosure rules, including the 72 year hold on information release and sharing with other organizations (https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2019/comm/history-privacy-protection.html).
They utilize methods to protect information even from “indirect disclosure” (https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2019/comm/history-privacy-protection.html).
Not even the Patriot Act, the Freedom of Information Act or a court subpoena can release your census information (https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/factsheets/2019/comm/2020-confidentiality-factsheet.pdf).
Now that you know that your information is safe, here are some of the reasons it is so crucial to fill out your census:
This is how political representation is decided, so there needs to be accurate counting or your vote counts for less.
The next ten years of research will be based on this information, and if it is inaccurate than it will lead to less effective legislation on:
Transportation infrastructure, school funding, resources for social services, emergency/evacuation plans, housing assistance/rehabilitation loans, facilities for the disabled and the elderly, etc., (see this article for more ways Census data is used http://www.census.indiana.edu/documents/2020/50ways_000.pdf).
$675 Billion of annual federal funding is allocated based on the Census- so it needs to be an accurate representation of our needs, or our community will be under-resourced.
Businesses use information from the Census to decide where to invest and what to price their products at.
Allow people access to free information about their community, including where people didn’t fill out their census (i.e. The information for there is less accurate).
This is the first year the Census will be on the internet and it will also be mobile phone compatible, so now it will be even more accessible. Moreover, the Census will be available in 13 languages online and there will be 59 other language guides (https://www.census.gov/library/fact-sheets/2019/dec/2020-safety-security.html).
Please do your civic duty and fill out your census and encourage others to do the same because you count!
For More Information:
According to the Census, the most undercounted group is children 0-5, read more here:https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/newsroom/press-kits/2018/counting-young-children-in-2020-census.pdf