How Will the 2020 Census Affect Coloradans’ Ability to Adapt to Climate Change?
Data collected by the census determines congressional representation and funding for the most vital needs of each state. Population undercounting can reduce community members’ resilience in the face of climate change. The census is the federally mandated count of our country’s entire population every ten years. The results of the census provide the demographic information the federal government uses to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and trillions of dollars in funding.
The goal of the census has always been to ensure all Americans receive their fair share of resources especially in funding and governmental representation. However, the census has not escaped the history of racism and the disenfranchisement of minorities in our country. For example, during the 1790 census slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person. Native Americans were not counted at all until 1870. A mix of grassroots activism, legal battles and general public and institutional awareness have shaped the content and process of the census. It wasn’t until the 1960s, thanks to the civil rights movement, that the census finally became specially focused on including all people rather than excluding them.
People have not only fought for the right to be counted but also for the right to keep the census data honest and confidential. That confidentiality is not only granted by federal laws, like the Privacy Act of 1974 and Title 13 of the United States Code, but also the Supreme Court repeatedly ruling against letting any entity federal or otherwise to access private census data. So what is public? Only statistics generated by the census that include consolidated data without any identifiable individual data are open information. For example, individual addresses cannot be disclosed,not even through civil discovery or request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Furthermore, under no circumstances is census information ever shared with immigration enforcement or law enforcement agencies. This information is never used to determine eligibility for government benefits.
What Does All This Have to do With Climate Change?
Climate models project that natural disasters, including drought, flooding and wildfires will increase in intensity and frequency across Colorado. Data gathered during the census is crucial for evacuation planning, emergency preparedness and disaster response.
Evacuation plans depend on knowing the number of people that will need to safely access evacuation routes. This is especially true for children, seniors and people with disabilities. Emergency preparedness takes place long before a natural disaster hits. The long-lasting decision to establish fire departments and hospitals in a specific area depends on the size of the population they will serve. Census data also determines the number of emergency responders, shelters and response centers that will need to be set up during an emergency. During the recovery and rebuilding phase following a natural disaster, census data helps determine the amount of money needed to cover those efforts.
All of this preparation will require one very important thing:funding. Statistics from the 2020 census will provide baseline numbers not only for funding of federal disaster relief, but also preparation, rescue coordination and even locations for new fire stations.
An accurate census provides the data required to provide Congress leaders the vision and capability to instill proper political action in the face of the climate crisis. Throughout history, people have fought hard for the right to be counted. In fighting for that right, our antecedents also made sure that filling out the census was safe for all. Our privacy is guaranteed to ensure participating in the census is a protected civic duty for all those living in the United States.
Interested in diving deeper into the census and help ensure everyone is counted? Join us for Counting on Resilience with the 2020 Census on Thursday, March 26 from 5:30-8:00 p.m. At this event, you’ll hear from experts about their experiences and challenges in regards to the census. We will review and deconstruct the census’ language, explore available resources and point out cultural barriers posed on historically undercounted populations.
Discover how YOU, as individuals or an organization, can overcome the unintentional biases and be part of the effort to count everyone! Buy tickets today at thealliancecenter.org/2020census.
Written by Isabel Mendoza, Program Manager at The Alliance Center