America Census Begins

A Census 2020 form.

Many of us can’t go to work or must work from home. We can’t worship together other than online. We can’t visit family other than by Skype or FaceTime.

There’s no baseball or softball or track and field to watch at the local high school. We can purchase takeout meals from our favorite restaurants but can’t enter the dining rooms and be served. Schools are closed. Movie theater screens are blank. The list of restrictions goes on.

COVID-19 has put almost everything on hold. Almost.

America’s constitutionally mandated 2020 population count is a glaring exception. Like “the show,” the census must go on. Among other things, the once-a-decade census provides data that helps disperse billions in federal dollars, determines the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state, and is used to draw boundaries for congressional and legislative districts.

However, the novel coronavirus will still be a factor this year as every resident of the world’s third-most-populous nation gets counted.

(JUST-FOR-FUN QUIZ: China and India have hundreds of millions more people than we do. What countries rank fourth and fifth in population? We’ll give the answer below. No fair Googling.)

In decades past, information was gathered largely by census workers knocking on doors. This year, for the first time, the Census Bureau wants as many people as possible to answer the questionnaire online — reducing the need for workers and, more important, reducing human-to-human contact as much of the country remains in stay-at-home mode to help fend off the coronavirus. Answering the questions only takes a few minutes. Participants can also respond by telephone or by returning census forms by mail.

“The health and safety of our staff and the public is of the utmost consideration and importance,” says the Census Bureau’s March 11 statement addressing the coronavirus outbreak. “We must fulfill our constitutional obligation to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the president of the United States on schedule, and we must adhere to our core task of counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place. The key message right now for anyone with questions about how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 Census: It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail — all without having to meet a census taker.”

The Census Bureau, which this week sent out its second round of census notices, recently suspended field operations until the start of April and pushed back the deadline for finishing the count by two weeks to mid-August. Most census takers won’t be knocking on doors until late May, at which time they’ll visit homes where people haven’t yet responded.

Census notices include the web addresses and phone numbers for the online questionnaire in English, Spanish and 11 other languages, making it easier for Valley residents who are fluent in Spanish but challenged in English to take part and be counted.

We urge you to turn off Netflix for a while and help out in the simplest way: Complete the census — online, on the phone or through the mail — and do it soon, thus reducing the need for census takers to knock on your door in May. Spanish-speaking residents, it’s just as vital for you to take part in the census so the Valley can receive its fair share of federal funds, and all residents can take part without fear: Nobody will be quizzed on citizenship, and census information will not be shared with any law enforcement agency, according to the Census Bureau website.

We also urge caution, as the census gives scammers a golden opportunity to enrich their own lives by making yours miserable.

Know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails to request participation, nor will it ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers, money or donations, or anything related to a political party.

Moreover, if somebody is at your door claiming to be from the Census Bureau, they should have a valid ID badge with a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. If you have questions about a census taker or any other concerns regarding possible fraud, call 844-330-2020.

Finally, completing the census has nothing to do with receiving any potential federal stimulus checks, as inaccurately reported on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter.

Do your part, and do it soon. The United States will thank you.

(ANSWER: Indonesia and Pakistan rank fourth and fifth in population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources.)

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.