Let’s be honest. The U.S. Census Bureau is not one of the federal agencies that’s on everyone’s mind during this COVID-19 pandemic.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of how vital its work is to our daily lives and in the midst of a global health crisis. The escalating spread of the novel coronavirus shows how much we lack essential resources to address this problem. And obtaining a fairly accurate record of how many people live in New York every 10 years determines how these resources are allocated.
It’s unfortunate that people around the world must endure the horrible effects of this disease. Nations are doing whatever they can to minimize the suffering.
For the U.S. government to conduct our decennial census while responding to daily emergencies, however, is incredibly complicated. And yet it is mandated. At a time when officials are urging people to isolate themselves, the Census Bureau chips away at the work it needs to perform.
Results of the census are used to calculate how congressional districts should be created. States can gain or lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the increase or reduction of their populations since the previous census.
“The U.S. Constitution empowers the Congress to carry out the census in ‘such manner as they shall by Law direct’ (Article I, Section 2). The founders of our fledgling nation had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress,” according to information on the Census Bureau’s website. “Enshrining this invention in our Constitution marked a turning point in world history. Previously, censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service. The genius of the founders was taking a tool of government and making it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.”
Census data also help determine how federal money and other resources are divided among the states. For Americans, there is a lot riding on making as good a count as possible in the regions in which they live.
However, people need to focus on how to remain safe as we deal with the enormity of this pandemic. We don’t know how long we’ll have to put up with government restrictions on our activities. We’re not certain when schools, libraries and businesses will reopen.
Who wants to worry about filling out a census form with all this going on?
Granted, it’s not easy to link our concerns over public health issues and the required census. We’re under tremendous stress, and being counted by some federal agency isn’t a huge priority at this moment.
But when we finally get around to assessing how we carried out the important work that must be done, we’ll appreciate the need for the census even more. We’ll see where our strengths and weaknesses were in responding to various problems. And this will tell us how we can improve for future emergencies.
We’ll recognize what we had at our disposal and what we lacked. Securing a reliable count of the state’s population will ensure we get more of what’s needed down the road.
Residents have begun receiving census reminders in the mail. While looking for something to do as we spend more time at home these days, let’s go online and provide the necessary information. This will lessen the burden we’ll face the next time a health crisis strikes.