Oftentimes, when people talk about Big Brother watching over us, it’s about the offensive, intrusive, and oppressive control a person or institution has over our lives. The concept originated in the George Orwell book, 1984. It is among my short list of classic novels that I first read in high school. Big Brother was a character in the book and he was precisely as I just described: offensive, intrusive, and oppressive. That’s my assessment of him. You may have your own opinion. But anyhow, Big Brother isn’t like that in all circumstances. Sometimes, Big Brother can be a good thing, and that’s how it is with the 2020 Census. Big Brother collects information decennially, or every 10 years, to learn who resides in the country.
Census data was originally established as an important source to help determine the funding needs for the nation. It’s important to count everyone to ensure money is set aside to meet everyone’s needs. The federal government collects data on every person who resides in the United States – and no, it isn’t just for citizens. The issue of citizenship is a controversial one, as in 2020 it was proposed by the Trump Administration to be a question. Federal courts ruled and agreed with opponents that asking citizenship on the 2020 Census is not constitutional and should be omitted as a question. True census data includes citizens, non-citizens who are legal residents, non-citizens who are long-term visitors (such as those here on a student or work visa), and undocumented immigrants. So, it doesn’t matter what your status is. If you live in the United States, you need to be counted.
Did you know that everyone living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and each of the US territories is required by law to be counted in the 2020 Census. It’s not just something that is nice for everyone to do. It’s the law. Title 13, United States Code, Chapter 7, Section 221 stipulates that anyone 18 years of age or older who doesn’t provide responses to the Census questionnaire can be fined up to $100. Additionally, anyone 18 years of age or older who willfully provides false responses can be fined up to $500 for each occurrence. You may find this tidbit interesting. Originally, the penalty also included up to 60 days in prison for not completing the form and up to one year in prison for providing false responses. The jail time was later stricken (Public Law 94–521, §13(1)and Public Law 94–521, §13(2), respectively). It’s really quite easy. You can fill out the paper form, call in and complete it via telephone, or do it online. If you don’t fill it out, a census worker may call your or may even knock on your door and interview you in person. Having someone show up at my front door is more of a deterrent for me than the fine. Just do it. Think of it as your civic duty, like voting or jury duty.
Soooooo, you might ask the question, if census data helps establish funding needs and budget allocations, and if there are legal penalties for not completing it, why are there so many underserved people across the country? There are many reasons. I won’t go into all of that here today. That is a long and sordid story that I’ll address in detail at some future point in time. But the short answer is this. Few people will state this out loud, but we practice a type of social stratification in America, a system in which people are judged for superficial, materialistic things; we live in a society of the haves versus the have nots. The haves are the ones making those decisions. Despite the fact that this is The United States of America, presumably a government of the people, by the people, and for the people money isn’t always allocated and dished out evenly and fairly. Lots of money is given to states via formula grants, based in large measure on the population in the state; however, a large chunk of money is also dished out based on property values, which equates to money. That’s why in the wealthiest of communities, you might find state-of-the art science and computer labs in public schools and better books in the school libraries and the athletic and arts programs are robust. In less affluent communities, the quality of books, science and computer labs, and the school buildings themselves are of a lesser quality. It explains why some parents use a fake address so their children can attend a better school in different district in another part of town.
But, let me get off my soapbox and stop pontificating. I won’t belabor this point, for this post is supposed to be about the 2020 Census. Although funding decisions are made based on a variety of factors, the census plays an important part in those decisions. These decisions include, in addition to education, food and income security, health care, housing, transportation, funds to farmers, fire and rescue services, and many other things too. Without this data, many staunch supporters of census data believe key resources won’t get to where they are needed. So, git er done. Learn more from the short clip.