Who Counts in the 2020 Census? | Why is the Census such a Big Deal?

This blog post is the first installation of a three-part series “Who Counts in the 2020 Census?” where we interviewed local leaders spearheading the fight in their communities to obtain a fair and accurate count of everyone who lives in Virginia.

We’ve been talking a lot about the census lately by pushing for more funding for outreach to ensure everyone is counted. But the census doesn’t actually start until next April, when households across Virginia will start responding to census questionnaires. So, what is the census, why is it such a big deal, and why are we talking about it now?

To get answers to these questions, communications associate Waameeka AheVonderae reached out to Monica Sarmiento and Sookyung Oh, leaders of Virginia’s immigrant community. Monica is Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Sookyung is the D.C. Area Director for NAKASEC (National Korean American Service and Education Consortium).

Monica Sarmiento (left) and Sookyung Oh (right) are leaders in Virginia’s immigrant community.

According to the Census Bureau, there was an undercount of people of color, people from low-income communities, and people who don’t speak English in the 2010 Census. Why is it important for everyone to be counted in the 2020 Census?

Monica: The first reason is money. One report stated that for everyone not counted in the Census, the Commonwealth loses $2000 a year. So, after 10 years the Commonwealth loses a great deal of money. These funds are used for a variety of things, from education to roads to all those things that are budgeted out and allocated for the Commonwealth. In addition to that, local governments use the Census to allocate their funds as well. Being able to have everybody counted in incredibly important.

The second reason is apportionment. Every member of Congress and state senators all have a number of constituents they represent. Now, if their jurisdiction is undercounted they may actually be representing more constituents than a colleague that has a correctly counted area. That is incredibly important because making sure every consituent’s voice is heard and every vote is equal in every district. It’s important to make sure our legislative process is working as it should.  

A third reason is research.  Not only do companies and businesses use Census data to go ahead and really study where they should locate their businesses, but they look at the Census for a variety of things. Everything from population growth to migration. There’s a lot of institutions, both universities and colleges as well as the government that look at the Census for research purposes. It’s used in a variety of ways including taking into account how many baby boomers are retiring, how will that impact employment in the United States, how will it impact employment in a particular jurisdiction? So there’s many reasons why the Census is extremely important and I think these three reasons validate that.

Sookyung: It really impacts us all. Even if you’re part of the 1% of Virginia, you’re still impacted by it. Census data is used for so many things. It’s not just about Virginia potentially losing $2,000 in federal funding a year for every person who hasn’t been counted.

We’re talking about political representation. The Census is the gold standard of data source for political representation, federal funding, business decisions, and even community based organizations like NAKASEC. We use Census data to figure out where we should provide services or where we should organize.

What are some other problems facing the Census count in Virginia?

Monica: The Census is incredibly behind in their hiring of folks. More people need to apply and be hired by Census. The Census website currently states you need to be a US Citizen in order to work for the Census. That is not true! If you are not a US citizen, you can absolutely apply and be hired by the Census. The hiring process is a little bit longer but if you’re qualified, you should absolutely apply and US citizenship should not deter you. We have flagged that. Historically, the U.S. Census has hired non-citizens and they are desperately needed, especially in immigrant communities.

Sookyung: Virginia is not projected to lose or gain any congressional seats but what impact might the Census data have on redistricting at the local level? The Census is not only about the financial side, it’s about political representation.

Now we know that the Census is more than just strange people knocking at your door. It’s a crucial aspect of our society and obtaining a fair and accurate count is beneficial to us all. It impacts the amount of funding we receive to make our communities better, the roads we travel on, and our political representation. Read the second part of our three-part series, “Who Counts in the 2020 Census” to learn more about the barriers facing a fair and accurate Census count in Virginia.