by Lisa Kolstad
Article 1, Section 2 of our U.S. Constitution requires that a census – an accounting of each person living in the United States – shall take place every ten years. The first census was taken in 1790, and the count was used to determine taxes and proportional representation in congress, meaning the most populous states got more congressional representatives.
The task of counting every person in our nation has always been a huge undertaking, but it has changed over the last 230 years. How and who we count has been addressed in at least three constitutional amendments and the questions have changed. For example, the first census had six categories, and inquired about gender, race, relationship to the head of household, and the number of slaves, if any. They only collected the name of the head of household, and slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person. It wasn’t until 1820 that the U.S. Census Bureau added a question about income.
The 2020 census, which will mark the 23rd census of our country, will be tracking number of people in each household, and will include questions about marriage, race, age, gender and more, and there is still an unresolved legal controversy surrounding the possibility of including a question regarding citizenship.
Even though census responses are confidential by federal law, many worry that if a citizenship question is included, families with individuals of mixed immigration status may not complete the census due to fear of being deported. The Census Bureau states: “By law we cannot share your information with immigration enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies or allow it to be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits. Your answers can only be used to produce statistics.”
Each census provides unique challenges and many questions. How does the census affect each of us, our communities, our state, and finally our country? The census does not only affect us politically by reapportioning seats in the House of Respresentatives and realigning congressional districts, but also affects other parts of our lives – from the economy to education – for the next ten years. The census count affects the formulas that distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year. That’s why it is important to count everyone.
This year, the census will be conducted online for the first time, and it can also be taken over the phone. For the people who respond electronically, it will only take about 10 minutes. Paper documents will be mailed to those who do not respond online. And for those who fail to respond in either format, census field workers will go door to door to try and get an accurate count of these “hard-to-count” populations.
The Census Bureau is currently looking to fill temporary jobs in all areas including field agents (address canvassers and census takers), recruiting assistants, office staff and supervisors. The length of employment will depend on the job, with some jobs starting right away and others not beginning until early next year. The pay scale starts at $17.00 an hour and goes up as job responsibilities increase.
If you are at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen with a Social Security number, you can investigate and apply for census jobs online at 2020census.gov. You can also learn more at census job fairs that are currently being held in local libraries and community centers. The census is an important event that helps ensure our democracy can operate fairly and smoothly. In order for that to happen, many part time, temporary jobs will need to be filled. This is a great job opportunity for seniors, college students and others looking to supplement their income.