We are a few months away from the start of the 2020 Census, and we have just one chance to get it right. Households across the country will receive a notice in March to participate in this once-a-decade, national headcount. Since the first census in 1790, the need for accurate data about our country’s population and economy has become increasingly evident. However, the 2020 Census is facing unprecedented challenges nationwide: insufficient funding; the first high-tech census with little testing; cybersecurity threats; and residents’ fear of sharing information with the government.
The census is much more than a national headcount — the data directly impacts the quality of life in our community. Much is at stake for Texans in next year’s count. According to a George Washington University study, a mere 1% undercount could cost Texas $300 million in federal funding a year for the next 10 years — the largest potential loss in the country. Census data also drives funding decisions at the local level and is a key component to business and philanthropic investments. Inaccurate data could drastically impact the quality of our health care, housing, education and public safety.
Texas has one of the largest risks of an undercount, due to a large number of hard-to-count populations, such as young children, immigrants, rural residents, low-income families and people with disabilities. Research estimates more than 6 million Texans live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, where self-response rates have been historically low.
The 2020 Census should be a major concern for nonprofits and foundations throughout the state. Reliable data is key to our business. Much of our funding decisions are made based on the way we understand our communities through data collected in the decennial census count. Texas has seen exponential growth in recent years, and inaccurate data could deprive population groups and communities of vital public and private resources.
Recognizing how important it is to collect accurate and all-inclusive data, state and local leaders are working to fill in the gaps left by underfunding from the national and state sources. Our colleagues at the Communities Foundation of Texas and the Center for Public Policy Priorities created the 2020 Texas Counts Campaign to organize community leaders across our state to ensure a fair and accurate census.
Here in Central Texas, Austin Community Foundation, St. David’s Foundation and others are committed to raising a combined total of $500,000 to support get-out-the-count efforts in our region. We’re fortunate to partner with United Way for Greater Austin, which will serve as a regional coordinator and administer a grant program to support outreach efforts.
Sharing knowledge and resources across counties and organizations is essential in a quickly moving landscape. We know that nonprofit organizations working in hard-to-count communities are best positioned to build trust with their constituents when it comes to the census. We also know that those nonprofit organizations are already working on tight budgets with slim margins. By offering funding to build short-term capacity for census outreach, we hope to harness the expertise of our community-based partners.
So, what can you do? The answer is easy. Fill out the census, talk about it with your family and friends throughout the state, and contribute your time and resources to any of the current efforts to support the 2020 Census.
This is about more than one person filling out a form and being counted in the census, it’s about entire communities standing up and declaring that we matter. That we count. That our voices and our perspectives deserve support, representation and recognition.