2020 Census: Can We Count You In?

In the span of only ten minutes, you could read a short article, fold a load of clean laundry, do about 500 jumping jacks, or listen to your favorite song several times in a row. Alternatively, in that same brief time frame, you could fulfill your civic duty and ensure your community receives the resources it needs—all by participating in the 2020 Census.

“Ten minutes is all it takes from each resident to help guarantee an accurate count of the people living in our region,” says Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director of Cleveland Public Library. “And that count is more important than you might think.”

Obtaining an accurate count has big implications for individual communities. The data captured by the 2020 Census directly impacts the distribution of federal funds upwards of $800 billion a year allocated for about 300 federal programs and services. When local communities or states don’t produce accurate counts, portions of the funding they need could be directed elsewhere. The census also impacts congressional representation, as the data affects the reapportioning of seats in the House of Representatives.

“Undercounted communities are disadvantaged economically and politically,” says Robin Wood, Assistant Director of Public Services. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone to participate in the census this year.”

Why Your Count Matters

A 2018 George Washington Institute of Public Policy study, “Counting for Dollars 2020,” breaks down just how much is at stake, financially, when residents aren’t counted in the census. In Ohio, the state lost out on $1,206 annually for every person not counted. (Other estimates place the amount lost as high as $1,800 per person.) That’s a lot of money not helping the people who need it—money you can ensure is directed appropriately to your community simply by participating in the census.

Still not convinced? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, census data is used for a wide range of programs, services, and resources, including: designing public safety strategies; distributing medical research; estimating the number of people displaced by natural disasters; designing facilities for the elderly, children, or people with disabilities; drawing school district boundaries; planning government budgets; planning for public transportation services; establishing fair market rents; assessing the potential for the spread of communicable diseases; providing genealogical research; and much more.

Wood, who is spearheading the Library’s efforts to help all local residents participate in the 2020 Census, stresses that advocates are particularly concerned about reaching households considered difficult to count. That includes complex households, blended families, those who don’t speak English fluently, low-income residents, undocumented immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ residents, and those who are homeless or without internet access. It is important to make sure these individuals are counted, just as everyone else is, in the 2020 Census.

Staff at Cleveland Public Library are stepping in to help by raising awareness surrounding the census, combatting myths and false rumors about the census, and offering assistance with the online census questionnaire. The Library also helps bridge the gap for some residents by offering free public access to computers and Wi-Fi, not to mention Wi-Fi hotspots patrons can check out to access the internet at home.

“Our role is to help people fill out the questionnaire and fulfill their civic duty by being counted,” Wood says. “Fortunately, we’re prepared. Our staff already helps patrons apply for SNAP benefits, unemployment, and additional services. Assisting with the 2020 Census is a natural extension of our offerings.”

This focus on the census aligns with Cleveland Public Library’s yearlong Democracy 20/20 theme.