What you need to know for census 2020

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The 2020 census is approaching quickly, and with plenty of changes thanks to modern times and technology, there is a lot to know before next year.

The Tompkins County Legislature Complete Census Count Committee held an informational meeting Aug. 13 at the Tompkins County Public Library to help educate the public on these changes and how the 2020 census will be formatted.

Kate Dillon, partnership specialist at the New York Regional Census Center of the U.S. Census Bureau, was the main presenter, as she guided audience members through the new census guidelines and what to expect.

Dillon said the census is crucial for ensuring a proper count and allocation of resources, and getting the word out helps increase response rate.

“We’re not just talking about implications for national politics but also how city and towns and villages govern themselves as well,” Dillon said. “It’s going to be used for the next 10 years to influence new policy and community development and businesses both large and small.”

The census has traditionally faced issues relating to high non-response rates, Dillon said, and 2020 is no different. Some of the challenges include families with complex living arrangements, distrust in the federal government, language barriers and others, Dillon said.

“One of the most effective ways for us to overcome some of these obstacles is by working with people, organizations and businesses that are already trusted leaders in their own communities,” she said.

Dillon said the Census Bureau is looking to work with local organizations, especially schools, libraries and nonprofits, to inform the public about the census, encourage response and help answer any questions or concerns people have.

“Although the decennial census is a national program, it counts and has outcome at very local levels, so that means we need local partners to help spread our message,” Dillon said. “The message we really want to spread is that the census is safe, it’s easy, and it’s important.”

The 2020 census is the first census to be conducted primarily online, with the 10-question form being available in many non-English languages online. Dillon said this helps to overcome the language barrier faced in years past.

“This is pretty exciting; this is the first time this has ever happened,” Dillon said.

Another large concern many have is that the information on the census will be accessible by the federal government, interfering with privacy. Dillon stressed that the census has always been protected by Title 13 of the United States Code, so responses are only used to produce statistics; personal information cannot be shared with the federal government, even with an executive order or subpoena.

There is also much concern over data breaches, as breaches have increased with other companies recently. Dillon said that all census data is encrypted to protect privacy, with restricted access and responses kept on a private, internal network behind firewalls.

To address concerns of lack of technology access, Teresa Vadakin, head of information and learning services at the TCPL, presented on resources TCPL will make available to make the process as convenient and easy as possible.

“Our internet is available for all patrons, all community members,” Vadakin said. “Even people who do not have a library card can come in and use our internet. So, because the census is going to be internet-based, the library is ready to help people in the community with the census.”

In addition, the library is open to working with organizations and the Census Bureau to act as an event and informational host.

The event was attended by several in government and educational positions, and plenty had concerns and questions for the presenters.

Doreen Hettich-Atkins, director of strategic planning and administration in the division of student affairs and campus life at Ithaca College, heard many of her students voice concern over the gender question, which only has the male/female options.

She said this is limiting to those who do not fall on the gender binary, so she asked if questions can be left blank for students who choose not to answer the gender question.

“I work on a committee on Ithaca College working already on how to help encourage our students, and one of the concerns from one of our committee members was the fact that the gender question is a binary question that many of our students refuse to answer,” she said. “The group that’s here tonight answered it as best they could. I think it’s a larger issue that needs to be addressed that’s too late to address for 2020.”

Alexandra Pfeifer, deputy clerk for town of Danby, came looking to see how to ensure a high, accurate count in her rural area. Pfeifer said her concerns were properly addressed, and she was grateful for the varied perspectives the meeting offered.

“I appreciate how many people came from different organizations because I never even thought about that … I thought it would just be the government organizations,” Pfeifer said. “I didn’t know that the library was involved in it.”

Anne Koreman, county legislator of District 5, said she is mainly worried about people not getting counted, especially marginalized groups that are traditionally of a lower response rate. Low response rates mean fewer resource allocation, which she said hurts everyone.

“I worry about that because for me to better serve the people in the county, one of the things we need is money, so if we don’t get enough money for decent programs, that’s harder for us to serve our people,” Koreman said.

Advertising for the census will begin in early 2020, with the official census day on April 1. Non-response follow-up begins in March and continues through July, so the sooner the answers are given, the fewer reminders a person will receive.

Apportionment counts are due to the president’s office on Dec. 31, 2020, and redistricting counts to the states are on March 31, 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau is currently hiring for office and field positions. Recruiting assistants are in the highest demand, said recruiting assistant Charles Borell.

“We’re recruiting in all areas,” Borell said. “We want to get individuals that actually do the census in the area where they live. People are going to be more comfortable talking to people from their area.”

For more information regarding the 2020 census, visit 2020census.gov or contact Dillon at (518) 951-9873 or katherine.d.dillon@2020census.gov.

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