Even during the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Census is moving forward.
For most college students, this marks the first census they will have to fill out under their own “household,” an exciting step in their adulthood.
Luckily for our tech-savvy generation which hasn’t posted mail since writing to pen pals in elementary school, the United States is now offering an online questionnaire for the first time in its history in addition to its usual telephone and mail-in options. Yes, even the Census Bureau has joined the virtual hysteria (though the new online option has long been in planning).
All individuals living in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, are required to answer the census. While many are unaware, this applies to international students, too — anyone who lives in the United States, even temporarily, is counted as a part of the U.S. population.
The only exceptions are students from other countries who’ve returned home before the April 1 marker, who otherwise would have had to complete the census without the coronavirus’ interruption to the semester.
Getting a precise count of college students proves nearly impossible. Because many students don’t know they’re required to fill out the census or are double-counted under their parents’ responses, the accuracy in counting university students severely drops.
The official date for the census is April 1 — no, this isn’t the deadline to complete the census, so you’re not off the hook. Due to the volume of people entering and leaving the country on a daily basis, the Census Bureau determined April 1 would act as the placeholder for census responses. So ask yourself, “Where was I on April 1?” and answer the census accordingly.
But why do I need to fill out the census? It’s required by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. Still don’t care? The United States uses its census, conducted every decade, to allocate the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives until the next census. It’s a very, very big deal, if you care about your state’s representation.
Census data is also used to direct federal funding for each state, affecting states’ spending on education, infrastructure, salaries for policemen and firefighters and other government-funded programs. With fewer people completing the census, states may receive less funding than they normally would as the entire state’s population isn’t accounted for.
“A lot of people think [they] don’t use any services the government provides,” said Eimmy Solis, a USC social sciences data librarian. “But if you drive your car around USC, you’re using roads that are paid by funding from the government.”
USC’s emergency services are in part funded by the U.S. Census, according to Solis.
The census asks questions related to age, race and housing — most of which your last Postmates driver already knows. The census takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and is entirely confidential (as mandated by Title 13 of the U.S. Code), making it the easiest test you will take in college.
For undocumented students who are afraid of completing the census, there’s no reason to worry. The census will no longer ask any questions related to citizenship status after the Supreme Court blocked President Donald Trump’s attempt to append the question.
“People who are undocumented shouldn’t fear that their information will be used against them,” Solis said. “The consequences of not filling out the census is a lot higher.”
While households that fail to respond by mid-April will be mailed a printed questionnaire, the notorious census enumerators who come knocking on doors may not arrive until later due to the coronavirus.
USC Housing is working with the Census Bureau to coordinate responses for students who lived in campus residences this semester. Since there are hundreds of on-campus students living at the same addresses, USC Housing will directly provide census data to the bureau and save students living in dormitories from answering the census themselves. Students who live off campus are still expected to complete the census the same as nonstudents.
The Von KleinSmid Center Library had planned to host a census kiosk open to the general public until Los Angeles County shut down all census kiosks in March because of social distancing measures.
Los Angeles County has historically faced issues with undercounting its population, partially due to its population size, language barriers and escalating homelessness crisis.
“L.A. County is the hardest to count county in the whole United States,” Solis said. “[There’s] a big fear that, again … California will also be undercounted.”
The Census Bureau classified eight out of 15 Los Angeles Council Districts as having “high” or “very high” rates of low responses, according to a Los Angeles City census report.
University Park — the neighborhood surrounding USC — was one of many L.A. County neighborhoods with high rates of undercounting along with West Adams, Koreatown and Pico-Union. As a part of Council District 9, University Park has a lower median household income and lower percentage of highschool graduates than the city’s average, key indicators of what the Census Bureau classified as “hard-to-count populations.”
As census data is used to determine Congressional seats for the next 10 years, undercounting poses an even greater problem for states with large populations.
“California missed having an additional representative in Congress because it’s estimated about 13,000 people in 2010 didn’t fill out the [last] census,” Solis said. “That’s a big deal.”
To put the number into context, Delaware, Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota and South Dakota each have one seat in the House.
California currently has 53 seats, more than any other state. However, California also suffers the most from undercounting, making the number of seats it has an inaccurate representation leading to the state receiving less funding per capita than other states.
Solis reminded students the Census Bureau only contacts individuals by mail, phone or in-person, so any emails that appear to be from the bureau are likely a scam. The Federal Trade Commission also warned people to avoid any inquiry about social security numbers, banking information or political affiliations.