10 years ago, my family didn’t fill out the census form out of fear, but this year, I will help them fill out the census online. Around March 12, households will receive an invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau to fill out their census form online and we young adults must ensure our families and neighbors are counted. At stake is $1.5 trillion in federal funds, the number of our state’s congressional seats, and our communities' future.
Unlike our upcoming presidential election, the 2020 census is one of the few political events where everyone, regardless of age, legal status, or ethnicity can participate. In the past three years, young adults' interest in politics and civic engagement has increased. In the 2018 midterm election, the voter turnout among young adults ages 18-24 years old increased exponentially, jumping from eight percent to 27.5 percent in four years. Here in California, Fresno and Merced Counties experienced a wave of young civic engagement and saw more than a 250 percent voter increase compared to 2014. We need this momentum to ensure an accurate census count to ensure adequate funds for our roads and key programs in education like Pell Grants.
Young adults can help engage our community members who may be low income, non-English speakers, homeless college students, and others who may feel marginalized or fearful. Although we are the least likely age group to participate in the census, some young adults are going out of their way to change that -- from Luis Jr., who transformed his family business TortaMovil into a civic engagement hub to student-led campaigns such as “Count Colleges In,” which informs students of the many ways census data impacts their lives.
According to Christian Arana, Policy Director at the Latino Community Foundation, we must engage and invest in young adults to ensure a fair and accurate count of all Californians in the 2020 census. As a group that is tech-savvy, civically engaged, and trusted in their families, young adults can lead their communities towards attaining greater political representation and resources for their local schools, clinics, and hospitals.
As the most tech and social media savvy generation, we need young adults to support community members who may lack these skills to fill out their census online. For the past nine years, my family has lacked internet access, and according to the Census Bureau, areas with low internet usage may receive a paper questionnaire in the first mailing. In addition to this paper form, a telephone option will be available. Awareness of multiple options to self-respond is critical for people of color, non-English Speakers and elders who tend to be the most disconnected or underconnected from the internet. Our technical skills and cultural capital can ensure our communities fill out their census in early March before census takers knock on their households.
I still remember the look on my mother’s face when a census taker knocked on our apartment door in 2010. We had only been in this country for less than five years and were unaware of the census process or the role of census takers, who follow up on households who do not respond to the census mailing.
The lack of awareness of who the census taker knocking on the door is can add anxiety to immigrant communities like mine. Despite the citizenship question not being added on the 2020 Census, fear-mongering left the immigrant community confused. To alleviate this confusion, the Census Bureau is investing $500 million in an advertising campaign informing people their census data will not be shared with law enforcement and that their answers are confidential and protected under law.
Although we still live under heightened political fear, our communities must be counted. All young adults must participate, whether or not they live in immigrant communities or communities of color. Familiarize yourself with the census form and apply to be your city’s local census taker, Young adults, let's ensure the $1.5 trillion at stake helps our communities thrive this decade.