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Post by Kearstin Kimm, JMU Computer Science ’20

Data collected by the census are used for many purposes, all of which ultimately affect every resident of the United States in one way or another. While many of these purposes benefit society as a whole, some make a more significant positive impact in hard-to-count communities. It’s important to note that there is overlap within these hard to count communities so barriers to participation often compound on one another. The decennial census presents us with the chance to make our communities what we want them to be through politics, education, and even economics.

Services for residents with a limited ability to speak English provide households in need the opportunity to learn a valuable skill without sacrificing other needs and responsibilities. Financial assistance for these programs is regularly determined by census data! Proficiency in the English language is a common requisite for stable and quality employment opportunities and enable recent immigrants to integrate more smoothly into American society. These services are extremely helpful to non-English speaking households and improve prospects for success.

A large percentage of school age children report speaking a language other than English at home. Of these households, children of immigrants are more likely to have parents with a lower level of education than their native-born counterparts. Education is reported to be a leading motive for family’s migration to the United States, and it is evident that education is a top priority for any parent who is willing to leave their homeland for their child’s benefit. Not only is census participation an avenue for immigrant residents to engage in democracy, it also determines direct financial aid for their children’s education.

College students are a unique demographic among other hard-to-count communities. Students are undercounted largely due to ignorance surrounding the census itself, rather than social or physical barriers. Confusion about who is responsible for responding to the census, where one is supposed to be counted and why the census is even relevant are all explanations for low response rates. Very few students consider their college town to be their home, and even fewer realize the importance of their semi-permanent residency to communities outside of the ‘University Bubble’. It seems reasonable for the student population to ‘reimburse’ the local community through census participation for all of the resources they’ve expended during the duration of their college careers.

Census data also has the capability of enriching the educational experience of college students. Other than the obvious value of being an active participant in our nation’s democracy, students involved in research can directly benefit from a comprehensive census report. Not only is understanding the process of conducting a census useful, the data itself is invaluable. Many projects are centered around real-world connections, and census data is an accessible, free, and widely respected asset to the academic community. The relationship between the decennial census and students is symbiotic; researchers require complete and correct data, and the census requires participation to provide this.

Rural populations are known to be fiercely private and weary of the government- especially in the case of a government agency requesting personal information. Ironically enough, rural communities stand to benefit from an accurate census count the most. In a time where the country is extremely divided, any opportunity to gain political power. Census data are used to draw legislative districts, which in turn determine the number of congressional representatives apportioned to a geographic area. The greater number of accurate census responses, the greater potential to exert political power.

Not only can it grant a louder political voice, the census is also a large factor in business decisions that aid in economic growth. To invest in their community, it is quite important for rural communities to respond to the census. Regardless of outside perspectives, rural areas are home to some of the tightest knit and resilient communities in America. Despite lack of access to broadband internet in the Digital Age, rural areas have the capacity to grow in their own right outside of an urban context. Investing in existing and sustainable industries is what will ‘save’ rural economies. The census affords communities the chance to direct funding to their areas of need; this would put that money to use in ways they know will produce the best outcomes.

Every hard-to-count population shares a fundamental motive to participate in the census- the opportunity to invest in one’s own community. Every aspect of society can benefit from extra funding and the census is a once in every ten years opportunity to maximize this funding.