The US Census: Meaning, Mobilization, Union

Jan 8, 2020 by

The year of the first US census, Mozart was in his last full year of life and Marie Antoinette still had her head.

Now it’s 2020 and a new head count is due.  

The US Census is upon us.  This should be a straightforward exercise in objective data gathering, but in the currently charged political climate it has become a daunting logistical task aggravated by a disturbing truth.

Many people are afraid to participate because they logically fear that identifying themselves to the government may expose them to adverse action by law-enforcement, including deportation. Their mere presence on our nation’s land mass may put them in jeopardy.  Their loyal association with the country may be deemed inherently almost traitorous.  

Despite all the official assurances that responses to census questions will be kept in absolute confidence and that violators would suffer draconian penalties and their victims left  unmolested by outlawed disclosures, skepticism remains.

Many other people are also wary for different reasons. They are protective of their privacy rights and wary of its abuse for official purposes on spurious pretexts. Can we blame them?

And  mass apathy rears its realistic head. 

Indifference may seem benign but it hits our communities hard, because their needs are paid for with federal dollars that are apportioned by a formula based on verified population.  

New York City has historically been especially grievously short-changed by an under-count of dwellers ( a word I use to avoid inflammatory classifications under immigration law).Reporting rates for  each of the 5 boroughs was dramatically below the national average. 

Census data was used a few years years ago to disseminate more than $675 billion.  New York City got most of the state allocation of $53 billion.

If we don’t literally make our presence known, it’ll wreak havoc on Medicaid, housing, bridges, roads and subways emergency preparedness and other subsidies for neglected infrastructure.  

In the area of education, children’s nutrition, special education, career and technical education, school lunch programs, and overall school aid budgets, will be in danger.  

It might also trigger a loss of congressional representation which translates into a loss of advocacy with catastrophic consequences. We are at risk of losing 2 seats in the House of Representatives as well as suffering from the redistricting of our State Senate and Assembly lines.

The Census data is being collected over a five-month period. It’s impossible to inadvertently miss the opportunity to participate as every traditional and modern means will be used: phone, written surveys, visits by Census Bureau workers and online.  

Your readers should get the word out to their family, colleagues and friends that participation in the census is a reflection of our self-esteem as New Yorkers.  If they belong to any professional organizations such as a labor union, remind them that the census is not some dry and pointless governmental habit, but rather an affirmation of duty to ourselves.

An example of such a responsible association is the United Federation of Teachers. The UFT is already mobilizing with phone banks, canvassing in communities, meeting with parents, leafleting, social media action and various coordinated events.

Civil service employees are particularly conscious of the cause and effect of equitable funding on essential services, but all New Yorkers share the duty to to be informed and to demonstrate their commitment to principle of equality.

In our democracy, that means working to ensure an honest and inclusive census count.

Ron Isaac

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