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OpinionEditorial

Too much at stake in Census

U.S. Census 2020 mailings are arranged for a

U.S. Census 2020 mailings are arranged for a photograph in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

To the many terrific reasons to promptly complete your census questionnaire, add this: Doing so will mean a census worker will not have to come knocking on your door to prod you. Eliminating that face-to-face contact would be a big help as the nation tries desperately to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The Census Bureau's official 2020 head-count of every person living in America is underway. Chances are you've received a postcard notifying you that it is available online. Some of you will get a paper questionnaire. Either way, filling it out is easy; it takes 15 minutes or so, and right now many of us have ample time on our hands, as we are hunkered down in our homes in our communal act of social distancing. Completing the form would provide a little relief from the unremittingly awful news about increasing infections and deaths from COVID-19. Door-to-door visits from census workers at this moment are scheduled to start in May. Clearly, the fewer of those the bureau has to do, the better.

But New York, so far, is lagging. The self-response rate across the nation is 30.2%, which means that many people have completed the census online, via phone or by mail without a visit from the bureau. In New York, the figure is 25.6%. On Long Island, we are better; Nassau County's self-response rate is 29.7% but in Suffolk it's only 27.4%. In all of 2010, the final New York self-response rate was only 64.6%. We can do much better. 

There are plenty of good reasons beyond the dangers of spreading the coronavirus for why we all must do our civic duty and complete the census. The once-a-decade count determines how some $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed each year, and as coronavirus decimates our economy we will need every dollar. It also decides how many Congressional representatives each state gets, and as of now it looks like New York could lose one seat. An accurate count of the total number of people living in the state is vital.

Beware of misinformation, like the social media post that went viral recently encouraging black people not to participate. The Census Bureau won't send you an email asking you to participate, nor will it ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number. It also won't mention any political party. If you get any such request, it's a scam.

Filling out the census is your obligation as a resident of this country. So spread the word. Nonprofits and some politicians are doing a good job of that. Others should join in the effort, by sending out purely informational mailers that tout not themselves, but the importance of completing the census.

The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. Despite our current difficulties, let's make this year's the biggest and most accurate one yet.

— The editorial board

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