The point of the Census is an accurate count of people in the US. It matters to everyone because it determines representation in congress, like how many US representatives are assigned per state. It also affects how more than $400 billion of federal funding is allocated to our communities for things such as hospitals, schools and public safety.
Here I would like to recap and to remind everyone that the work is not over. As of April 27, 2010 only 73% of the population was counted in the current census. So over 27% are still out there, sitting amongst dusty piles of "I'll get to it" mail or already lining the bottom of a bird cage or trash basket. If we are at least 2% of the population or at most 10%, then there are many of us who haven't filled out this form yet.
As of May 1st census takers began going out to households who have not yet sent their census form in. If you haven't done it yet, please take the census. Answer your door or respond to an appointment card left by a census taker at your home. Sending in your Census form in is not recommended because if you haven't sent this in yet then a census taker is already on their way to you.
"A census taker is a person from your community who is hired by the Census Bureau to make sure that your neighborhood gets represented as accurately as possible. The census taker's primary responsibility is to collect census information from residences. Most of these residences have not sent back their 2010 Census form.
The census taker will ONLY ask the questions that appear on the census form.
- The Census Bureau provides the census taker with a binder containing all of the addresses that didn't send back a filled out census form.
- The census taker then visits all of those addresses and records the answers to the questions on the form.
- If no one answers at a particular residence, a census taker will visit a home up to three times and attempt to reach the household by phone three times. The census worker will leave a double-sided (English and Spanish) NOTICE of VISIT in the doorway that includes a phone number for the resident to schedule an appointment.
The Census is the largest and the best data tool we have for understanding our communities but as Che Ruddell-Tabisola from the National LGBT Partnerships at the U.S. Census Bureau recently quipped, "few rituals in American democracy generate less excitement than the Census." But, after reading my "This is Not Sexy" blog, I hope I have at least made a case for how important this is for our communities.
In terms of data, the Census allows the government, businesses and researchers a chance to get a good, empirical handle on demographic features of the US population. All of this data is reported in the aggregate, in other words all bunched together in different configurations based on the questions of concern to the researcher. For example, how many women live in Fort Worth, TX between the ages of 18-35? Data is not reported at the individual level--in other words your individual name is never shared with people seeking this information.
I agree that we should be cautious and understand the infamous histories such quantitative data collection efforts come saddled with. Ruddell-Tabisola reports that, "studies following the 2000 Census found that as many as 50% of same-sex couples did not identify as partners in the census. The biggest reason was concern over confidentiality. We need help letting everyone know that the census is safe. By law your census responses cannot be shared with anyone."
Standing up and being counted with the assurance of privacy is power. The Census has a strong policy in place to protect your privacy:
"The census taker who collects your information is sworn for life to protect your data under Federal Law Title 13. Those who violate the oath face criminal penalties: Under federal law, the penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both."
Masen Davis, Transgender Law Center Executive Director, wrote about privacy issues as a guest blogger here. Below, I excerpt some important reminders from him:
"When someone knocks, ask for official Census identification, which a representative will display around their neck in plain view.
Keep in mind that if - for any reason - you have reason to worry that the census taker at your door may not be authorized by the Census, feel free to call your Regional Census Center to confirm their employment by the Census Bureau. For all relevant Census phone numbers, please visit: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/contact/index.php
Census takers will visit local homes up to 3 times and make up to 3 phone calls to record information for this year's Census. If there is no answer, the Census taker leaves a door hanger, featuring a phone number - to allow you to call the number to schedule a visit when most convenient.
The Census is far from perfect for gay, lesbian, bi and trans concerns but there have been some strides taken in making it better for us. Ruddell-Tabisola reports that in many ways the 2010 Census is historic for LGBT communities because:
"For the first time the census will count same-sex married couples, even if we live somewhere our relationship isn't recognized.
It is also important to know that transgender respondents are counted as the gender with which they identify.
Census information also tells us things that we cannot find anywhere else. For example, the 2000 Census found there were more than 1 million lesbian and gay veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. It also found that more than 250,000 children were being raised in same-sex headed families.
This is the first year the census has hired Partnership Specialists to work with LGBT Communities. Census Partnership Specialists are field organizers who work with specific hard-to-count populations, such as Non-English Speaking Communities and Immigrant Communities.
On my question of what we can do to ensure the success of the Census in our communities, Ruddell-Tabisola urges us to:
- Tweet, text and write about the census to remind people that it's not too late to do this
- Let everyone know the census counts same-sex married couples and partners, even if you live somewhere your relationship is not recognized
- Tell everyone that transgender people are counted as the gender they identify with
- Make sure everyone knows the census is confidential. By law your answers cannot be shared with anyone
- Update your Facebook status to tell all your friends once you have completed it. Ask if they've mailed back their form yet
- Become a fan of the census Facebook page and the Our Families Count LGBT public education campaign
- Follow the 2010 Census and Our Families Count on Twitter and re-tweet key information every day