What is the Census and Why Does It Matter?

By: Johnny Brownlee II  

Follow Johnny on Instagram: @slin_k_polymath

A lot of emphasis has been put on the year 2020: not only is it a critical election year, but it’s also a census year. Many have heard of the census, but few realize that it is a civic duty that impacts every aspect of our lives. Well, let’s get to the bottom of it and hopefully clear up any misconceptions.

What is the Census?

The simplest answer: it’s the U.S. Government’s way of counting how many people are in the country every ten years. It’s a survey of ten short questions to determine what are community looks like and what are needs will be for the next ten years. That is for citizens and none citizens alike.

Why Does It Matter?

Why does it matter? The simple answer: money, representation, and opportunity.  The government uses the census to determine federal funding and how much money comes to a community.  The census asks 10 questions about who is in your household and their relationship to one another.  It takes about ten minutes to fill out.

Just about every aspect of American life is affected by the outcome of the census.  Think of the Census as a progress report. It tells us if we’re doing better or worse and gives us the numbers and proof of where we are improving or declining.  It tracks demographic changes, by showing us not only where people are living and working, but also what groups of people are there, or where they are moving to.  That collected data can then be used to properly fund housing and neighborhood improvements.

The Communities That Need It the Most Are Often Overlooked

The Census has historically under counted the most vulnerable people in our society. These groups include: people of color, immigrants, poor people, and children between the ages of 0 and 5. These groups are the most affected by the census and lack of government funding in their communities, yet they are also the people least  likely to fill out the census.  They have the most to gain by participating in the Census. Our job as advocates is to educate and encourage our communities to fill out the Census.

Public Health, Public Safety, and Businesses

If you feel that your neighborhood needs better public safety measures, your hospitals are underfunded or that your police department is understaffed and underfunded, then make sure that you fill out the census. If you have ever heard the words, “we need more resources, programs, grants, or federal support”; then you should  inform everyone in your community to fill out the census.

Think of grants for a non-profit, assistance programs for those in need, or resources for first-time home-buyers. Businesses also use the census data to determine where a need is, where growth is, and where potential is. The data is used to build factories, plants, stores, offer new jobs, build new houses and developments in those areas.


The Census affects your infrastructure. If your city, county, or state is growing and you need more infrastructure improvements, repairs or investments, the census is key to changing this. If your morning commute is too long because traffic is a problem or public transportation is unreliable, the Census is the key to changing this. If we lack reliable internet, or have faulty electrical grids, crumbling bridges and roads, or unsafe water conditions (think of Flint, MI or Brady, TX) the Census is key to getting the Federal funding in our communities to improve those things.

Politics and Representation

Lastly, the Census affects our political representation. Census data is used to redistrict and redraw political maps and boundaries for every level of government. Census data is used to determine whether we have fair representation. By filling out the Census you can ensure that you get fair political representation and curtail gerrymandering, which is an act of drawing political maps in favor of a party or candidate.

COVID-19 and the Census

If your child’s school is overcrowded, your children may have not been counted and correctly accounted for. By filling out the Census, you have the power to ensure that all children are counted and the class room size in schools are evenly distributed. An accurate count of the people in our community will help us through this pandemic. We currently don’t have enough hospital beds, ventilators, or PPE (personal protective equipment) for the hospitals and first-responders nationwide. The census helps us allocate proper funding to hospitals and areas based on the number of people in an area. We also don’t have enough computers for school boards to accommodate students and teachers to work from home. We are currently feeling the effects of a historic under count of the last census.

It’s Your Tax Dollars. Make it Count by Getting Counted.

It’s critically important that we fill out the census. If we don’t, our communities will lose billions of dollars and opportunities. The data collected through the Census are used to address shortcomings in our communities. You pay taxes every time you purchase something and every time you get a paycheck, those tax dollars are supposed to come back to your community proportionally. By filling out the census you ensure that decisions about the pool of money you pay into are shaped by you.

It’s ten questions, ten minutes of your time, that will affect funding in your community for the next ten years. Share this with your friends and family to make sure they are educated about the census!



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