Today is Census Day and the coronavirus crisis isn’t stopping the once-a-decade count of Americans. Millions of federal dollars are at risk if every child isn’t counted, and nearly 2 million kids age 5 and younger were missed in the 2010 census.
Children of color and Latinos especially are vulnerable to undercounting. Brandon Lee, census communications consultant for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said families with mixed-citizenship status sometimes are unsure about how to answer.
“It’s not common knowledge that the census is a count of everyone,” he said. “We hear from community members who think, ‘Well, I’m not a citizen, so I’m not going to participate, I’m not going to fill this out.’ But really, we’re trying to overcome that.”
Census responses should be based on everyone living in the household today, April 1. Nearly 40% of Illinois households already have replied to the 2020 Census.
Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said the census has some of the strongest privacy protections in federal law, and census workers face stiff penalties for failure to maintain the confidentiality of census data.
“It is a confidentiality pledge that you have to take, that you’re sworn for life to protect any information you might see during the course of your employment,” she said, “and it is punishable up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or both. So, it is a very serious pledge that they take.”
Deborah Stein, network director for the Partnership for America’s Children, said census figures determine political representation, as well as funding for child care, medical care, housing and other services that give children their best start in life.
“If you want to make sure there’s more funding for your schools and for all the services your child needs, make sure you count everybody from birth on in your household, whether you’re related to them or not,” she said, “because the consequences of missing a child last a decade, and that’s most of their childhood.”
Census forms can be completed by mail, over the phone or online at 2020census.gov.