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Census 101: The What, Why and How You Can Help

The census has big impacts on rural Americans

Every 10 years the government conducts a count of every person, citizen or not, living in the United States. This year’s census kicked off on Jan. 21 in Toksook Bay, AK. Over the next several months every person living in the United States will be invited to participate and answer a few simple questions about where they live and who they live with.

This year WoodmenLife is proud to help sponsor the census, an essential activity that helps every American, especially those living in rural communities and small towns. By submitting your response you have an impact on your community and show those around you the importance of

But what exactly does the census do, and how can you be a part of it?

What Does the Census Do?

An accurate census count determines how many seats your state receives in the House of Representatives. But you feel the impacts every day right in your community.

Locally, the data that’s collected this year will help government organizations determine how they distribute billions of dollars to communities.

By making sure your household’s count is accurate you’re helping support your community. Census data is important, especially in rural areas, to keep communities and towns running. Unemployment programs, utility services, like water and waste disposal, and extension programs receive funding based on this data.

Think about the school your children attend. Census data impacts funding for special education support, teacher training and rural education programs.

And if someone needs to go to the hospital? They use census data too. Rural ambulance services, Medicaid and specialized programs like disability support and advocacy all receive funding based on the data.

How Does the Census Work?

Whether you live at the top of a mountain or in the middle of a city, Census Bureau employees go to extraordinary lengths to count each person. It’s a long process, but here’s a simple timeline:

  • March 12-20: Most Americans will begin receiving invitations to respond online or by phone
    • If you don’t receive mail at your home’s physical location, like people using post office boxes, a census taker will drop your invitation off in person.
    • Those who live in areas that are less likely to respond online, such as a rural area with limited internet access, will receive a paper questionnaire along with their invitation and information about how to respond online or by phone, so they can decide how to respond.
    • If you live in a very remote or hard to reach area, workers may attempt to count you in person, at your home. This helps them avoid having to return to places that are hard to get to during the non-response period.
  • March 30-April 1: People experiencing homelessness will be counted at shelters, soup kitchens, food vans, and other locations
  • April 1: Census Day! By this date, every household will have an invitation to participate in the Census. When you respond, write down where you live on April 1 and include everyone living in your home on that date. If you’re not sure who to count, you can learn more at the 2020 Census website.
  • April: Census workers visit places where large groups of people live, like college dormitories and retirement homes.
  • May—July: This is the non-response period. During this time, workers will begin visiting Americans who haven’t responded by phone, online or mail and taking an in-person count.

Special note: The U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted some dates this spring to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions. The bureau continues to evaluate all field operations and will communicate any further updates as soon as possible.

How Can I Help?

The biggest thing most of us can do to help support the census is to spread the word. Use your social media channels to share facts and encourage your friends and family members to participate.

It’s also important to correct misinformation about the census. Some common questions include confusion around the counting of non-citizens, how to participate and how answers are used.

  • The Census counts every person living in the United States, citizen or not.
  • The 2020 census will be available online, by phone and by mail. You can complete via phone or the internet in 13 languages
  • Law enforcement does not have access to your answers and they cannot be used against you.

It’s also important to make sure you and your loved ones don’t fall for scams related to the census. The Census Bureau will never ask for:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Money or a donation.
  • Anything on behalf of a political party.
  • Your bank or credit card account numbers.

The census is essential to so many aspects of American life, and it’s important that the count is accurate. If you’re interested in helping shape your community, visit 2020census.gov/en/how-to-help.html to learn how to get involved.

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Abby Korinek