Census day, which shares the same date as April Fools Day, is a required count of the nation’s population at the top of every decade since 1790.
The census is more than just a number or a vague total of the nation’s population. In all of its massive and complex glory, the census is a gateway to equal resources, fair and inclusive policy and the enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws and influences, but only when the numbers are accurate.
According to a new study by the Urban Institute, the upcoming 2020 census could exclude more than four million people, leading to the worst undercount of Black and Latinx people in the U.S. since 1990.
However, white households would be overcounted by .03 percent nationally.
“This all comes down to the basic concept of fairness,” revealed Robert Santos, vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute in a statement to NBC News.
A miscount would allow one group to “benefit more than it should at the expense of others,” Santos continued.
These projections, including those who are considered “high-risk” and “low-risk” of being excluded, were based on a range of hurdles that could skew the accuracy of the census, including a new controversial question of citizenship.
The Trump administration is fighting to include a citizenship query. The negative political climate regarding immigration may invoke dismay and terror among immigrants, a “high-risk” group. This could also adversely affect blue states, which have large non-citizen populations.
Addressing this important issue, Jesse Jackson Sr.’s non-profit organization, Rainbow Push, dedicated to social justice and political activism, addressed next year’s census during its annual Rainbow Push convention.
At the convention’s National Get Counted Census 2020 breakfast, Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president, revealed how Illinois will receive “$14,000 a year for every person we count” and how that same amount is instead forfeited “for every person not counted.”
“$34 billion dollars in federal funding is tied to the census,” Preckwinkle added. “As it stands, Illinois is projected to lose one seat in Congress, which will further isolate communities that are already struggling.”
Cook County, which includes the Windy City, is the second most-populated in the country, with the largest African-American population of any U.S. county at 1.2 million.
When inaccurately reported, the census can become weaponized as a tool to prioritize personal and private sectors agendas.
After 2010’s census, Republicans gained the upper hand when they swept into power in many state legislatures in the 2010 elections, in addition to certain population groups, dubbed “hard-to-count,” were left neglected and disproportionately abandoned.
The ramifications? Staggering.
Marginalized communities, including immigrants, the homeless, those living in poverty or group homes, frequent movers and post-secondary students face damaging drawbacks due to the census being treacherously off track.
Historically, the African-American population has been undercounted in the decennial census, disadvantaging their families and neighborhoods.
Communities are made invisible and further marginalized by undercounting, leading to a never-ending heinous cycle of poverty, violence and disrepair.
Underreported persons, particularly those in the Black and brown regions, inevitably leads to a field day of reduced resources, starving school districts and alienating after-school programs left abandoned.
The decade-long cycle of misrepresentation and laxness beats on.
Undercounting results in undermining African-Americans' needs, greenlighting the government’s just cause to deny and possibly enforce civil rights. Denial of a full voice in policy and government decision-making leaves our family’s needs improperly prioritized, or simply disregarded.
And what happens with the census data, which includes age, race and relationship status? The info is calculated to determine adequate representation and equal access to important governmental and private resources, regardless of ethnicity or race.
The census, despite transforming into a politicized monopoly, now carries long-lasting and even life-and-death consequences for whole communities and groups.
Convention panelists, including Dr. Dilara Sayeed, president of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, encouraged those who may be reluctant to comply based on data confidentiality concerns. Those who are undocumented, or even those living with additional people not reported on their rental leases, may hinder some from accurately submitting information.
In a statement, Michael Cook, spokesperson for the Census Bureau, revealed how his employees swear a lifetime oath to protect responses as “the law protects every response to every question” and all “responses are confidential and cannot be used against you in any way.”
The snapshot is more than a composite of numerals, as the numbers influence those issues that hit close to home, including education funding and school district boundaries.
Unreported persons would result in a massive undercount, negatively impacting states with vast immigrant and African-American communities, like California, New York and Texas.
2020 will be a blockbuster year thanks to its twofold milestones; a presidential election and census year.
The census will determine the House of Representatives seats are allocated among the states and how many electoral votes each of the 50 states will have for the following decade -- a chief factor in the heated 2020 race for the White House and beyond.
"Last census cycle, we [Illinois] lost one seat,” revealed Preckwinkle at the convention. “We have three African-Americans members in Congress, and we want to ensure we take every opportunity to ensure their seats. We have to understand it's an uphill battle here, and in order to facilitate participation and awareness, Cook County has put aside $2 million last year in November for outreach efforts."
But Illinois isn’t the only state taking an initiative to ensure an accurate and fair count.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports how Stacey Abrams, who ran for Georgia governor last year, launched Fair Count, a non-profit group dedicated to ensure minorities and non-English speakers make the count.
Neglected communities are drowning in debt -- socially and financially. Without proper representation, voting rights protection and equal access to all economic and social sectors of society, including housing, health care and the job market, there is a tab left that is too expensive to pay.
With so much at stake, rural, Native, and communities of color have the most to lose when it’s all added up in 2020.
Make sure you’re counted in, so your community isn’t counted out.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images