By Tania Del Río Solórzano, Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement
Many exciting things will happen this year. First, it is the beginning of a new decade. That is already saying a lot, but there is more. It is an Olympic year, the Summer Olympics will begin in Tokyo this July. We will have important anniversaries. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, will turn one hundred years old. And so will the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which recognized women’s right to vote. In December, Argentines will have the opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse. And as if someone could forget it, the presidential elections in November will reveal to us if the future holds the beginning of the post-Trump era in 2020 or if we will be forced to wait four more years.
But there is another important event that will take place this year. If you are not a hundred percent tuned into government activities, you may not have heard about it, especially because the federal government has cut funding for outreach significantly. I am referring to the Federal Census. National Census Day is officially on April 1, although in certain hard-to-reach places of Alaska, the counting process has already begun. I will briefly explain what it is and why it is extremely important that you participate regardless of your immigration status.
The Census is a national survey mandated by the Constitution. It is done every 10 years. Its purpose is to know how many people reside in every corner of the United States. This includes all people regardless of their immigration status, housing situation or lack thereof, nationality, race, creed, sex, or age. If you live in the United States, you count!
During the month of March, you will receive a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau. This letter contains instructions on how to fill out an online form. If you do not have access to a computer, you can go to any branch of the Boston Public Library or the library in your town, for free, and request support to respond to the Census. The form is simple and will take approximately ten minutes to complete. One person must complete the Census on behalf of each household. It consists of ten questions for that person and eight additional questions for other members of the household. You can also complete it by phone. More information is available by calling 877-EL-CENSO or sending a text message that says “CENSUS” to 97779.
The data collected by the Census has huge consequences. Based on the figures for this count, decisions will be made on how to distribute $800 billion in federal government funds (from your pocket as a taxpayer!) among each state. In the last count, this meant approximately $16 billion for Massachusetts. And the decision is generally simple: the greater the population, the greater the funding. The following government programs determine the amounts to be distributed in Massachusetts based on the Census: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare, road planning and construction, rent subsidies (Section 8), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Head Start among others.
The Census also determines the level of representation our state will have in Washington. The distribution of congressional seats and the redistribution of districts at all levels of government is determined by Census data since, in the House of Representatives, the number of representatives of each state is proportional to its population. After the 2010 Census, for example, Massachusetts lost one of its ten seats in Congress.
Boston has one of the lowest census return rates in the nation. Due to our large proportion of renters, students, and recent immigrants, Boston is the 9th most difficult to count among the 100 largest cities in the United States.
Additionally, Latinos are a particularly difficult group to count. We tend to live in hard-to-reach places, such as multi-unit buildings. Our community consists of a high proportion of tenants, who have more mobility than homeowners, are more difficult to locate. Also, we live in multigenerational homes and with complex relationships. That causes Latino children to have been hard to include in the count historically. For example, children who reside part-time with one member of their family and part-time with another, or children who reside with someone other than their parents, are sometimes not included, although they should be. Finally, Latino adults are more likely to believe that it is not necessary to include young children.
For our migrant community, another main obstacle to the count is fear. Many families are afraid that providing their data to the Census can lead to adverse consequences in their immigration cases or because they are undocumented. It is important to clarify that these consequences do not exist since the Census is prohibited by law to share individual information externally or with other government agencies. You can rest assured that your information will be kept private.
We only have one opportunity every ten years to achieve a complete count. This data will inform important political decisions and determine the allocations of federal funds for a decade. It affects us all. I invite you to lose any fear you have and to do your part. Latinos count!
Tania Del Rio lives in Eagle Hill in East Boston with her family. He has a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. She is the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement in Boston. She is interested in promoting civic participation in the Latinx community and women’s rights.