Come next spring, our country will be in the midst of our most inclusive exercise in civic engagement: a complete count of every person living in the United States.
Though April 1, 2020 – the official day of the count – is almost a year away, it’s not too early to start preparing our communities. There is simply too much at stake in the 2020 Census, especially for populations that are hard to count.
The decennial Census is about much more than compiling a demographic snapshot of our nation. It is about the allocation of power and money. If we don’t get an accurate and complete count of all people living and breathing in our country, we are all diminished.
Our democracy is, after all, a collective endeavor that empowers “We the People” through voting and other forms of political and civic participation.
For those who can’t — or choose not to — vote in elections, something as simple as filling out the Census questionnaire can be a source of empowerment.
The Census is a tradition steeped in our country’s history. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the first Census was conducted in 1790. An “enumeration” is called for in the same article and section that addresses membership in the House of Representatives, underlining the importance of the Census in distributing political power.
The 435 voting seats in the House are fixed by law and proportionally represent the population of all 50 states, with each member of the House representing a set number of constituents.
After the 2010 Census, Georgia gained one seat. The Peach State was one of only eight states that added representatives in Congress, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Congressional representation is also consequential because the number of a state’s representatives in Washington, D.C., factors into the all-important electoral votes that determine who gets to be president.
Moreover, the critical task of redrawing the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts also occurs in the aftermath of the Census. We cannot underestimate the importance of redistricting in shaping political outcomes.
Census data has a bearing on who gets to vote. In December 2016, the Census Bureau designated Gwinnett County, which has more Latinos than any other county in Georgia, as a jurisdiction that falls under Section 203 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Since more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens in the county are members of a single-language minority group and have difficulty understanding English, this action ensures that these voters can access Spanish-language ballots.
Between 2015 and 2040, Latinos in metro Atlanta will grow faster than any other racial or ethnic group, with Gwinnett County seeing the biggest growth, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
How tax dollars from Washington are allotted to states is also derived from Census numbers. Data from the decennial count determines the geographic distribution of about $900 billion in federal funds.
For many metro communities in Georgia this is of utmost importance, since many cities have been incorporated in the past decade and the 2020 Census will be their first decennial count.
In 2016, guided by data gathered from the 2010 Census, Georgia received $24 billion through 55 federal spending programs, according to a recent study by the George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy. For every person not counted in the Census, the state forfeits $1,339 annually in the 16 largest federal assistance programs, the report said.
As Georgia’s population grows and becomes increasingly polychromatic, it is imperative that all our communities and residents get access to the resources we need so that Georgia can remain competitive as a business destination.
In order for Georgia to reap the political benefits of a population growth powered by Latinos and to retain for decades to come its spot as the top state to do business in, all Georgians need to be counted.
Aixa M. Pascual is senior lead for advocacy, thought leadership, civic affairs and cultural engagement at the Latin American Association in Brookhaven.