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Make It Count, Texas: Participate in the U.S. Census

With the 2020 Census looming, the Census Bureau is currently working to make the process more efficient, but it’s important that Texans do their part. Here’s how the census works; the Census Bureau mails out forms to each household which are to be filled out and returned.

Citizens can also opt to respond to the census online. Questionnaires are mailed out to every household, if the questionnaires are not returned, then this is followed by a second mailing and phone calls. If there is no response to the second mailing and phone calls, then finally a census worker will visit the home.

The Census Bureau is working to make this cumbersome task more efficient. While the specifics of the 2020 online reporting procedure are not yet known, the Census Bureau has said that for the first time, they expect the majority of individuals to self-report online.

Essentially, when a household does not respond, the Census Bureau is forced to go door-knocking on the non-responsive homes. It’s important that Texans step up and do their part to make sure that they’re counted.

During the 2010 Census, Texas was a particularly difficult place to get an accurate count. In 2010, 23.5% of Texans failed to self-report to the census through mail or electronic means. Texas can be particularly troublesome for a number of reasons. With so much rural space, some Texans have lacked internet access in the past which may have limited their options for responding to the questionnaire.

Another inhibitor to an accurate count is a general distrust by some of the government. Texas has a large immigrant population and studies have shown that these groups are less likely to report out of fear of retribution from the government. However, it is worth noting that under federal law, personal information provided through the census cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.

Title 13, U.S. Code

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code. “These laws not only provide authority for the work we do, but also provide strong protection for the information we collect from individuals and businesses,” the Census Bureau notes on its website in citing the following:

Title 13 provides the following protections to individuals and businesses:

  • Private information is never published. It is against the law to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business such, including names, addresses (including GPS coordinates), Social Security Numbers, and telephone numbers.
  • The Census Bureau collects information to produce statistics. Personal information cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.
  • Census Bureau employees are sworn to protect confidentiality. People sworn to uphold Title 13 are legally required to maintain the confidentiality of your data. Every person with access to your data is sworn for life to protect your information and understands that the penalties for violating this law are applicable for a lifetime.
  • Violating the law is a serious federal crime. Anyone who violates this law will face severe penalties, including a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

So why is self-reporting so important? When nearly 1 in 4 Texans fail to self-report, it results in not only expensive and time-consuming door-to-door tactics by Local Census Offices, but individuals are running the risk of not being counted at all. Nearly half of all Local Census Offices are being cut from 2010 to 2020. Texas alone will be losing 13 of its local offices.

Not being counted in the census may not seem like the end of the world, but many important determinations depend on this data being accurate. The census helps with the distribution of public funds and even political representation.

Population totals and breakdowns by age, sex, race, and other factors help determine how federal funds are granted to states, counties, and even local communities. When individuals in an area fail to report, these funds may not be distributed the way that they should.

Within a community, schools, hospitals, roads, and public works can all suffer the consequences of an inaccurate count. Self-reporting is the only way to ensure that you will be counted. Otherwise, you risk short-changing yourself, your community, and your state.

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