#2020Census: The Value of Counting Everyone

June 27, 2019 Eva-Marie Malone India Thusi

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

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Everyone in our country deserves to live in a society that promotes dignity, supports families, acknowledges and respects its people, and uses our can-do spirit to expand—not shrink—opportunity. Collecting Census data in a fair and accurate way makes it possible for us to tell a story about our country that is inclusive and reflects the kind of progress that we can and should make together. 

This administration is blatantly attempting to limit opportunity, and thereby infringe on these values, by adding a citizenship status question to the 2020 Census. Today’s Supreme Court decision in Department of Commerce v. New York rejected some of this administration’s reasoning for adding a citizenship question to the Census, which is a step in the right direction. However, much remains unclear, because the case has been returned to the Dept. of Commerce to provide an explanation. While the Court rejected this administration’s attempt to act in a lawless manner that would limit the representation of people in this country, the administration can still consider steps to take to add the question.

Talking Points:

When talking about the impact of today’s ruling, it is important to emphasize that the ruling does support the principle that federal agencies are intended to do the work of the people, not political interests. The Court notes that agencies are required to provide “genuine justifications” for their actions. Moreover, it is also important to reiterate the values underlying accurate and inclusive Census data collection. The numbers collected in the Census reflect and impact people. This implicates the very values that we aspire to achieve in our society: inclusion, dignity, and full participation by all who live here. 

Emphasize the importance of Census data, achieving a fair and accurate count, and uplifting the story that fair representation in the Census tells us by:

Lead with Values. Fair and accurate Census data is important, but we have to spend a little bit of time telling audiences why that is: what it really stands for and the story it tells us. Use a values lens to do this, focusing on Opportunity, Family, Dignity, Inclusion, Pragmatism, Common Sense, and American Ingenuity. Each of these represents why the programs that rely on Census data really matter, what they protect and promote, and what they represent in terms of our American identity. And each of these value lenses speaks to the inclusion of everyone in achieving a fair and accurate count — which means being intentional about how Census questions are asked and whether people are encouraged to participate in the first place.

Building a Message with VPSA:

We recommend structuring messages in terms of Value, Problem, Solution, and Action. You can use the themes and recommendations above to build a message around the specific policy solutions you need to highlight. For example:

Value: Our country must aspire to the important value and ideal of inclusivity for all — in opportunity, the right to thrive and be safe, and to a life that is free of fear and exclusion. We also must work together to achieve opportunity and economic security for everyone who lives here. Every family should have access to a quality education, a job that enables them to provide for their family, affordable healthcare, a place to live that is safe, and a dignified retirement. And that starts with a fair and accurate Census count.

Problem: Wrongheaded, exclusionary proposals by the current administration not only endanger the progress we’ve made but take us sharply in the wrong direction and away from these values. Harmful and hateful proposals such as the addition of a citizenship status question to the Census is against our aspired-to values as a nation; would pull resources away from real solutions; and puts communities in an even greater position of fear, exclusion and vulnerability. This proposal, and others like it, also lead to division in our culture, our communities, and the prospect of commonality in how equality for all is understood as a value.

Solution: We must all work to ensure full participation and inclusion in the 2020 Census, particularly among communities of color, urban and low-income households, people with limited English skills and young children. Experience tells us what works to expand opportunity and build economic security for all Americans. These solutions include supporting and funding building block programs that should be considered the foundation of our nation, and making sure that we have an accurate assessment of who relies on these programs the most. Social insurance initiatives like Medicaid and Medicare, and infrastructure programs like Community Development Block Grants, all receive federal dollars that are disbursed based on a fair and accurate Census count, and we must work together to identify ways to advance these and other important programs for the future.

Action: Join the #SavetheCensus or #2020Census campaign and tell the President and Congress that #WeCount and they must help build a country that is inclusive to all who live here, and an economy that works for all of us.

Additional Resources: