Massachusetts cannot afford an undercount in 2020
Communities could miss out on $2,400 of federal funding per person missed, per year
TODAY, THE US SUPREME COURT is hearing oral arguments on the addition of a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census. This proposed question compounds the climate of fear and distrust in the federal government and likely would lead to lower response rates among immigrant communities. Massachusetts has the seventh highest proportion of residents who are immigrants. Our Commonwealth cannot afford an undercount in the 2020 Census.
Along with determining political representation, the decennial census impacts $16 billion in federal funding for vital programs and services in Massachusetts. For every person who is not counted in the 2020 Census, their community misses out on $2,400 in federal funding every year for a decade. An undercount means overcrowded classrooms, inadequate childcare subsidies, and less grant funding to build affordable housing. An undercount will skew data that our world-class universities use for research and businesses use for making decisions that drive economic growth.
The 2020 Census will be in full swing at the same time as the presidential primary elections. Xenophobic narratives in the national debate will worsen fear generated from the citizenship question. In addition concerns about the citizenship question, the discourse about hacking in the elections maps directly onto the concerns about the security of the first digital census. Without a coordinated response, misinformation about the citizenship question and the digital census can become conflated with dominant narratives in the presidential primary. This is on top of the perennial challenges to an accurate count of people of color, renters, young people, immigrants, and children who are not yet school age in every decennial census.
The only way to cut through this noise is to empower trusted messengers to tell their stories about why the 2020 Census matters. The good news is community-based organizations in Massachusetts have been preparing and organizing earlier than ever to ensure communities are counted.
Trusted leaders, organizations, and institutions in historically undercounted communities require resources to reach all the typically undercounted communities. Private philanthropy has risen to these challenges.
Mayor Walsh announced that the City of Boston will invest $100,000 from the fiscal year 2020 city budget to support organizations to achieve a complete count, in addition to dedicated staffing resources to ensure a fair count. Starting with the $2 million of public investment from the House budget, it’s time for our cities and the state to ensure a complete count by resourcing trusted organizations so that everyone counts in 2020 and in the next decade.Beth Huang is the director of Massachusetts Voter Table, a Boston nonprofit focused on increasing civic engagement among communities of color, low-income people, and youth. Alexie Torres is the executive director of the Access Strategies Fund, a Cambridge-based nonprofit promoting democracy in underserved communities.