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If you want to count, get counted

A woman and a man went into a stable. She was in labor, but there was no room at the inn. An animal shelter is a sorry place to give birth, but Mary and Joe (last names omitted) had committed to being in Bethlehem to register for the census.

One of the best known stories ever told begins with a census. Two low-income people traveled in hardship for many miles to comply with the Roman government's order to count heads.

The United States is conducting its decennial — every 10 years — Census in 2020. The U.S. does not penalize failure to register and has no travel requirement to sign up. That's helpful, because the COVID epidemic and Black Lives Matter are making it more critical than ever to register.

It takes about 10 minutes on the website or about the same amount of time to fill out a mail-in form. Masked and ID'd Census takers are starting to ring doorbells in some cities after a delay caused by the pandemic.

No donkey, no manger, no hardship. And yet the response rate in Connecticut has been hovering in the 65 percent range. That means one-third of households have not been counted. Some cities are even lower; in Hartford, the percentage is only in the mid-40 percent range. With all that 2020 has brought, it may not be surprising that people have ignored the Census, but they have it backwards. Census findings will be critical to the funding and representation needed to deal with COVID-19 and respond to the issues raised by Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements.

The federal government uses Census counts to allocate funds to states. In 2017, for example, Connecticut got $18.7 billion based on the results from the 2010 Census. Economic relief from the effects of the COVID pandemic could be smaller than our fair share if Connecticut residents are undercounted.

Likewise, after each Census the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned. States that show a loss in population could lose seats while others gain. Connecticut went from six congressional districts to five in the 2003 reapportionment. The lost Sixth Congressional District had been formed in 1965 after passage of the Voting Rights Act. If the state were to lose yet another seat, newly inspired voters and activists from growing movements would have one less congressman or congresswoman from Connecticut representing them. And everyone would have one less representative fighting to get the state back as much support as possible from the billions paid in federal taxes by Connecticut residents and businesses. Five is better than Delaware (one representative) or Vermont (also one), but compare it to California, which has 53 congressional seats.

This is why anyone who has mustered the courage and righteous indignation to rally with Black Lives Matter or in support of health care workers or other causes must not skip the Census. The year 2020 has replaced the apathy of previous times with a sense of urgency that will achieve change only if translated into numbers that reflect the real population.

Of course, every American over 18 should register to vote and exercise that right in every election year. But it's equally important to exist in the eyes of the Census, which won't ask again for another 10 years. Why would you let it go another decade before you count?

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.









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