A Bronxite’s guide to the 2020 census

On the eve of the new decade, all levels of government are gearing up for the 2020 Census.

Starting April 1, households will receive a mailer encouraging them to fill out the census online. The results of the nationwide count will have a profound and lasting effect on the everyday life of all Bronxites, whether multigenerational residents or newly arrived.

The New York Regional Census Center, affiliated with the U.S. Census Bureau, provided the following information during a community seminar in the Mott Haven Community Center on December 5.

What is the Census?
According to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government must count and register the demographic information of all residents within its states and territories at the start of every decade.

The Census collects data about age, race and ethnicity, country of origin, “Hispanic” heritage, gender, annual household income, and other demographic information.

Will there be a question about citizenship?
No. The Trump Administration tried to change the questionnaire to include a citizenship question, but in July of 2019 the Supreme Court rejected the move, arguing that the government had not followed the necessary administrative procedures to change the questionnaire. The plaintiffs had argued that including the question could have an adverse effect on the Census response rates in immigrant communities.

Why carry out the Census?
Based on this year’s results, the federal government will disburse $700 billion to state and local governments and programs, such as: Medicare and Medicaid; national school lunch; unemployment insurance; Section 8 housing vouchers; and Headstart. The data also help the federal, state, and local governments to make decisions about public transportation, public schooling, and other services and institutions touching residents’ everyday lives.

The results will also determine how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are given to each state.

The basic principle of the Census is that participation leads to democratic representation, in both the federal funds issued and congressional seats allotted. Communities who do not participate entirely will not receive their fair share of resources and representation for the next decade.

How can I fill out the Census?
There are three ways: by internet, over the phone, and in writing. In most cases, respondents will be able to fill out the questionnaire online, according to the instructions they receive in the mail. They will also have the option to go to community centers with computer labs if they do not have internet access on their personal devices.

“We are looking for community allies who can offer their space to have a ‘Census Day’ where people can go to fill out the Census online or over the phone,” said David Beller, community partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau in The Bronx.

“If you give us the space, we’ll bring the technology and representatives to help people fill out the forms if they have questions,” he continued.

Will they knock on my door?
Each household will receive up to four written notices from the Census encouraging them to answer voluntarily. In the case that they do not respond to any attempt, a mobile team will try to visit and register their responses in person.

The U.S. Census Bureau is not a law enforcement agency. All agents should carry a special badge and cannot demand entrance into any home. Opening the door to them is not required. No agent will ever request banking or social security information.

In which languages will the Census be administered?
The digital census will be available in 12 languages other than English: Spanish, simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese. There will be additional interpreters available over the phone in The Bronx for speakers of Bengali, Fulani, and certain West African dialects. The Census Bureau has also published online guides in 60 languages.

Will my personal data be protected?
The Census Bureau will publish data in aggregate form to protect the anonymity of each respondent. Digital questionnaires will be protected by a firewall. The Bureau will keep responses in an encrypted server and will not work with outside contractors.

Furthermore, Census employees take an oath of strict confidentiality regarding the data and personal responses. Under penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 it is illegal for a Census Bureau agent to share personal data from the respondents, including with other government agencies like the police or immigration authorities.

Can I get a job with the Census?
In the coming months, the Census Bureau is looking to hire 14,000 people in The Bronx before April, according to Beller. It will give priority to applicants with U.S. citizenship, but waivers are available for applicants speaking a critical language. Hourly wages vary between $20 and $27.50, depending on the position.

Roman Gressier is a freelance multilingual journalist reporting from the South Bronx. He is also a student at the Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY and a former applied research fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice. Readers’ comments are welcome over Twitter or by email at [email protected]

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