The census is coming! No, not a monster or natural disaster or even a superhero. It’s the once-a-decade data gathering in the United States that impacts both our organizations and our communities. And this census will be different in important ways, making your support and leadership critical.
The First Digital Census
For the first time, the 2020 Census will be digital-first. This means that when households receive their census information in the mail, it will instruct them to go online to complete it. The census next year will highlight and demonstrate the reality of digital divides in the U.S. The truth is, there are roughly 80 million Americans without the internet at home. And who are those folks? Mostly seniors, people of color, immigrants, and low income earning households. In other words, the folks we really need to be represented in the census.
The census impacts our work as nonprofits, whether we know it or not. It is tied to critical things like funding allocation, nonprofit service distribution, and political office districting. Yes, you read that right. The data gathered through the 2020 census will determine the type and amount of funds that could be available to your organization and community. It will be data your organization is expected to reference in planning where you offer or expand services. The census even supports the districting for your elected officials and whether or not they may really represent you and your community.
All of those things impact systemically marginalized communities. Remember, those are also the same groups who aren’t online. If they aren’t counted in the census, the services and supports and representation they have will likely decrease. The census can be completed by paper or phone, as it has been conducted in the past, but those are not the focus of the materials community members will receive. And the fear they may have about how their data will be used will be a barrier in itself. Their participation will mean acknowledgment of the reality of who is in the community.
Census and Digital Equity
All nonprofits need to recognize the importance of the census on your work, the context in which you do that work, and the community you do that work with and for. Additionally, every nonprofit needs to be employing digital equity programs within its mission and addressing the relative needs of its community.
Do you work with parents? Do they have opportunities through your work with them to learn about using computers to communicate with their children’s teachers? That’s digital equity work. Do you work with seniors? Do you offer opportunities for them to learn to use YouTube to find concert recordings of their favorite bands? That’s digital equity work. You get the point, right? Whatever your mission, whatever your programs, that are opportunities for you to be integrating digital literacy into your work. And every bit of that helps folks understand why the internet is relevant to them, build their skills and confidence using computers, and bringing more people online.
What Nonprofits Can Do
Connect with your local Complete Count Committee. Find the other organizations in your area that are getting involved and join them. This is a partnership approach that will make a difference for the census but can also build a foundation for partnerships that can last much longer.
Turn your organization’s office or other space into a digital equity center where folks can come to complete their online census. If you have clients, participants, or community members coming to your office for other programs or services, set up a laptop or two and make it clear that they can complete their census in your office for free and with your help.
Advocating for inclusiveness. What languages are spoken in your community? There are only twelve official languages for the census this year, so your leadership may be critical for helping your community members navigate the census at all.
The results of the census will impact your organization, so you should also be involved in ensuring it is successful!