Editor's Note: Hannah Saeger Karnei is The Patterson Foundation's manager for Census 2020 Education.

In true 2020 fashion, Census 2020 has been an unexpected journey. Community advocates across Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties were relieved when the deadline was extended into the fall, and duly disappointed when it was again amended to Sept. 30. Our region is still working to achieve a complete count, impacted by COVID-19 restrictions on in-person outreach and an uncertain political climate.

As of right now, Florida lags behind the national response rate by more than 3%, with merely 60.9% of responses recorded.

But, six weeks is certainly enough time to rally. Flip that cap inside out and roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get to work!

What can we do? First, soothe the fears around safety in replying to the census. Census data is confidential for 72 years under penalty of federal law. Enumerators (door-to-door data collectors) swear a lifetime oath to protect your data. Any breach of this oath results in a $250,000 fine and/or up-to five years in prison.

I understand that we’re living in uncertain times where institutional trust is low. So, consider what is and is not asked on the census questionnaire.

What is not asked on the census questionnaire?
  • Your social security number
  • Any type of financial information
  • Any information on citizenship or immigration status
  • Political party affiliation
  • Religious affiliation
  • Employment status

What is asked on the Census questionnaire?
  • The person who fills out the form gives the address and how many people live in the house, apartment, or trailer.
  • For each member of the household: Name; relationship to Person 1; gender; age; date of birth; Hispanic origin; race.

Our Census 2020 Education project team completed the survey in an average of four minutes. The consensus is that the whole process is more simple than expected, and the questions no more invasive than a Facebook profile. And if you have little ones in your house — be they children, grandchildren, foster children, nieces or nephews — make sure they’re counted as well!

There are many options to respond to Census 2020:
  • Online using a computer, phone, or tablet at my2020census.gov
  • Over the phone by calling 844-330-2020
  • Answering the door when an enumerator knocks over the next six weeks.

Online and phone options offer assistance in more than 50 languages.

If there are any concerns you encounter around replying to the census, investigate the thousands of free resources available online. From now until Sept. 30, make a concerted effort to talk about the census with anyone and everyone you encounter.

The census is not a political effort. It is a simple accounting of how many people live in our country so that federal funds can be distributed fairly.

From schools to roads to emergency response and health care, everyone in our community needs to be counted so that the next ten years can be brighter than 2020.

Census 2020 special coverage comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and the Herald-Tribune Media Group to inform, inspire, and engage the community.

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