Compared to some of the other things we’re being asked to do these days, completing the 2020 Census is a breeze. It can be filled out online in under 15 minutes and the questions are straightforward — How many people live in your home? Do you own or rent? How are household members connected to one other? The census does not ask about citizenship.
Perhaps the most onerous question is about race. There are write-in fields for Americans who identify as white or black to be more specific about their origins. In this land of immigrants, many of us have a slew of nationalities in our family trees. Are we more one thing than the other? Is being 1/24 French statistically significant? It’s a challenge to fit hundreds of years of familial history in a box.
Existential questions aside, Mainers have many reasons to complete the census. For one, it’s the law and a constitutional duty. Census-derived data also is used to allocate some $675 billion in federal funding. In 2016, Maine received $4.1 billion through 55 federal programs, among them many that low-income residents depend on, from Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program to Section 8 housing grants and Head Start programs.
The census results also are used to determine state legislative districts and voting precincts.
Each census captures a moment in time and yields a treasure trove of data.
The 2010 Census showed that Ellsworth was the fastest growing city in Maine over the preceding decade. Ellsworth’s population grew by 19.9 percent between 2000 and 2010. By contrast, the population of Portland increased by 3 percent. Bangor’s population went up by 5 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau has postponed its field operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many Americans have heeded the call to complete the once-a-decade headcount. The Maine self-response rate was 38.3 percent as of April 11. In Hancock County, the rate was 24.9 percent. Plenty of room for improvement, as the national response rate was 47.9 percent.
When historians one day set out to write about the pandemic, they will almost certainly draw from 2020 Census data to paint a picture of America at this time of crisis.
Mainers should fill out the census form to ensure that the historical record is as accurate and complete as possible and to make sure our state gets the federal funding and political representation it deserves.
For the first time, respondents can fill out a form online at 2020Census.gov, or they can mail it in or call 1-844-330-2020.
For the sake of your community, state and history, stand up and be counted.