Money, Power, and the 2020 Census - Our Count

Money, Power, and the 2020 Census

Note: Timing references in this post have been updated as of May 5, 2020. For more information on how the 2020 Census will impact our ability to build power for the next decade and beyond, click here.

The 2020 Census is here. And while it may be just a humble survey, its impact on our individual and collective quality of life is anything but. The Constitution requires the federal government to count everyone living in the United States every ten years, and the results of that count determine a lot about how money and power are distributed in our society. If you’ve ever wondered how certain communities always seem to have what they need to thrive while others — namely ours — don’t, the results of the census have a lot to do with that. There’s a long history of Black folks being undercounted in the census, from being originally counted as only 3/5ths human, to governments spending inadequate resources on counting our communities.

Color Of Change staff stand on the steps of the Supreme Court during an ultimately successful campaign to block the citizenship question from the 2020 Census.

This year, we have three different ways (online, by phone, and on paper) to be counted in the census, giving us the power to reverse these trends and get the resources and representation we deserve. Of course, that’s why many of the same forces that try to stop us from voting and organizing against systemic injustice are also trying to confuse and even scare our communities out of being fully counted. But just like we successfully defeated Trump’s racist and unconstitutional citizenship question, we’re fighting against disinformation and other attempts to count Black communities out. The 2020 Census is safe and simple to complete; keep reading to learn what’s at stake so we can get out the count. 

Every year, our federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on important programs our communities need to thrive, including SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, Head Start, CHIP (health insurance for kids), special education, and more. Information from the census is used to decide how to divide that money amongst states and communities. And that’s not the only way census data affects our money:

  • Businesses use census data to make decisions about where to open new stores, offices, and factories, so communities that get fully counted are more likely to get those job opportunities and services.
  • Health is wealth, and census data are used to decide where to build and expand hospitals and other health care facilities, grocery stores, and more. 
  • State and local communities use census data to see how many seats they’ll need in early education programs and schools and to budget for teachers, learning materials, and other resources they’ll need to care for and educate children. That means communities that are undercounted will be more likely to have overcrowded classrooms and outdated materials, while communities that get out the count will be able to give their kids a better start in life, which translates into greater economic and social power in the future.

And speaking of power, let’s talk about some of the ways the census impacts our collective power: 

  • Census data determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, which has a huge impact on federal laws and other decisions that affect our lives. 
  • The results of the census also determine how many votes each state gets in the Electoral College that officially elects the President. (There are a lot of things folks could say about the Electoral College and whether it should even exist, but as long as it does it’s important for states to get their fair share of representation there!)
  • State lawmakers use census data to redraw district boundaries, which not only affects our representation in Congress, it also affects our political power in states themselves. State legislatures have a huge impact on residents’ quality of life because so many of the laws that affect our daily lives come from our state and local governments. 
  • Advocacy groups use census data to understand communities’ populations and needs, to detect trends that expose problems like environmental injustice, housing and employment discrimination, and health disparities, and to fight for adequate facilities and resources in our communities.

With all this and more at stake, we simply can’t afford to not be counted. Please share this information with your family and friends so they can learn what’s at stake in the 2020 Census too, and so we can all get counted this year. Together, we can ensure that our communities get the money and power we deserve.