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The Census Should Count Every Coloradan


April 1 officially marked Census Day across the United States – one year from the start of the next decennial U.S. Census on April 1, 2020. Officials from the U.S. Census Bureau provided updates about 2020 Census operations, logistics and planning.

State and local governments, businesses and community organizations also kicked off Census Day by announcing outreach plans to the millions of people they want to ensure are counted in 2020. Advocates from across the country shared stories about why a fair and accurate count benefits all of us. And locally, Colorado’s Governor made remarks about how a full and accurate Census count supports community planning efforts like school improvements, road repairs, economic development and emergency services.

Heading into 2020, advocates and leaders are also expressing concern about next year’s Census and have used Census Day to call attention to the substantial undertaking that will be required for a fair and accurate count in 2020. The Colorado Health Foundation, along with other philanthropic organizations, are engaging, and we encourage you to learn more.

So, what exactly is the Census? And why does it relate to the health of Coloradans?

Since 1790, the federal government has been required to count every single person living in the United States every 10 years. Not only does this determine the official population figures for our nation, it also determines how we are represented in our public institutions at the local, state and federal level and how billions of dollars of public spending are allocated across state and local communities.

Simply put, the U.S. Census is about money, power and data, and each of these have direct connections to our health. Ensuring the validity and accuracy of data derived from the Census is one of the most long-lasting actions that we could take to ensure that public and private investments are advancing equity within and across communities.

However, preparations for the 2020 U.S. Census have hit some significant roadblocks. Some of these challenges are not unique to the 2020 Census. Across Census cycles, there have been both populations of people and geographic communities that have been “hard to count,” meaning that special attention and efforts must be made to ensure they are fully represented in Census data. Adding to these predictable challenges, 2020’s Census is also facing some new ones: hiring shortfalls and leadership vacancies in the Bureau, reductions in funding for field offices in communities, the complications of standing up secure systems for the first-ever online administration, and heightened fear among some communities to share information about themselves with the government. 

Another complication for 2020 is the Department of Commerce’s proposed inclusion of a citizenship question on next year’s Census form. Inclusion of this question would be both untested and unprecedented, and research shows it could create a significant undercount of responses that would significantly reduce the accuracy of all data derived from this Census.

The Foundation believes that a full and accurate count of all people living in Colorado is essential for creating health equity in our state, and we have not been silent in the face of these threats to the 2020 Census. Last year, we submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce, urging them to remove the proposed citizenship question from the 2020 U.S. Census. In this comment letter, we highlighted the ways in which we rely on valid and accurate census data to carry out our goal of bringing health in reach for all Coloradans. We also added our name to another comment letter signed by over 300 other philanthropic organizations from across the country who shared our concern about the negative impact the inclusion of this question could have on an accurate count in 2020. In addition, we have provided support to organizations in the state working to ensure the Census data is representative of the people.

More recently, we also joined 30 other foundations and philanthropy-serving organizations to submit an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting a legal challenge to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census. The brief is a form of legal advocacy that supports the plaintiff’s case in challenging the citizenship question by describing how accurate Census data plays a direct role in informing philanthropic investments, in shaping how we engage in communities and how we work to advance our missions.  

Through the amicus brief, justices on the U.S. Supreme Court will learn how the Colorado Health Foundation – and others – uses Census data to measure progress on health status and other social determinants of health in Colorado. They will also learn about our locally-focused work, and how we use Census data to better understand demographics and how our communities are changing over time.

As we sit one year out from the 2020 Census, we urge our policymakers, local leaders and advocates to work together to ensure the Census is valid and accurate. We are encouraged that many community organizations in Colorado are already stepping up to work with specific populations, like those in our rural communities, that have been hard-to-count or have had lower response rates in past Censuses. Local Complete Count Committees are also forming across the state, creating forums for local and regional partners to align their resources and reach as many Coloradans as possible. And we’ve seen social media campaigns such as #CountMeIn – a positive sign that awareness will come from new places.

There’s a need to further build on this momentum over the next 12 months and beyond. Across our state, we call on organizations, business groups and civic institutions to partner in preparing for what’s to come in 2020. Work with your local chambers, volunteer with your local Complete Count Committee and demand transparency from your government so that we can ensure that each one of us is represented.

We believe that every Coloradan counts – and we are committed to ensuring that each of us have what we need to live a healthy life. Data that represents all of us will help us to pave the path toward our vision of creating health equity in Colorado. Join us in spreading the word that every single person in Colorado – and across the nation – should count.