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Save Lives. Fill Out Your Census.

Taking the census ensures your community gets its fair share of funding—and representation—during the pandemic and beyond.

A pamphlet with 2020 census information is included in a box of food to be distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 6, 2020 in Paramount, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A pamphlet with 2020 census information is included in a box of food to be distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 6, 2020 in Paramount, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A deadline is looming. Millions of lives, trillions of dollars, and our democracy all hang on whether we show up to meet it.

I don’t mean the election. I mean the census.

Every 10 years, the Census Bureau attempts to count every person living in this country—regardless of location, immigration status, or citizenship. There’s an ongoing legal battle over the deadline, but unless the courts overturn the Trump administration’s decision to move it up, we’ve only got till September 30 to turn in our forms.

If you live here, you need to be counted.

"When communities are undercounted, they’re drained of their political representation and their resources. We can’t let that happen."

Unfortunately, many of us aren’t. Certain communities—such as rural, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, immigrant, and LGBTQ folks—are especially likely to be undercounted. Some experts warn this year’s census could be the worst undercount of Black and Latinx people in 30 years.

When communities are undercounted, they’re drained of their political representation and their resources. We can’t let that happen.

The more people your state counts, the more seats it gets in Congress. That gives your state—and you—a bigger say in making laws and selecting the president through the Electoral College. If you don’t get counted, you get less say.

The census also determines how the federal government spends about $1.5 trillion every year on programs like food stamps, unemployment, housing assistance, education, infrastructure projects, and Medicare and Medicaid.

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During a pandemic and recession, states need every last dime to support these programs. If you’re uncounted, your state gets shortchanged—which could be especially devastating during a pandemic and recession.

Unfortunately, 13 out of the 15 poorest states have a lower response rate now compared to the previous census count in 2010. That means the most vulnerable communities, including those hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, are at risk of losing out on crucial support for recovery efforts.

There are poor counties in Mississippi and Louisiana, for example, where census response rates are as low as 30 percent. In West Virginia, response rates in some counties are hovering at around 23 percent. And in one poor New Mexico county, the response rate is just 18 percent.

Rates are even lower on many tribal lands. At the Jicarilla Apache reservation in New Mexico and the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in Montana, they’re under 15 percent. At the Gila River and Fort Apache reservations in Arizona, and the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota, they’re in the single digits.

An undercount won’t just harm these communities this year or next, but for a full decade into the future.

Please encourage anyone and everyone you know to take the census, especially if you are from a marginalized community. Taking the census will ensure you, your loved ones, and your neighbors get their fair share of federal funding—and representation in our democracy.

You matter. Your presence here matters. As peculiar as it may sound, you could save your life and livelihood, or your neighbor’s, just by filling out your census form.

Let’s ensure all of our communities are represented fairly and funded equitably. Let’s fill out the census.

Robert P. Alvarez

Robert P. Alvarez  is communications assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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