The United States Census Count is fast approaching, and it’s a really big deal for our little island. Most people can tell you what the census is — it’s when we count the number of people in every community across the country — but it happens only once every 10 years, so it’s not something we think about very often. Now’s the time to think about it.
Census data determines how billions of federal dollars are divvied up for expenditure across the United States, and an undercount on our island means we get a smaller part of the pie here in our community.
Census data helps our government leaders plan at the local, state and federal level: how many police, firefighters, ambulances, buses, schools, hospitals and libraries. A lower count keeps communities from receiving funding for these and many more vital community services.
In Galveston, our census count also controls the federal funding for critical infrastructure needs, programs that support home rehabilitation and homeownership opportunities, rent assistance through Housing Choice Vouchers, funds to keep the city’s transit system running, and free and reduced-cost lunches for hungry children.
All very important stuff. And we get a chance to influence it all once every 10 years with the census count. Such a simple act. A citizen choosing to respond to the census. But it’s also incredibly complicated.
Counting every Galvestonian isn’t an easy task. Some people just don’t ever hear about the census. Some people hear about it but don’t think it’s important to be counted: “I’m just one person. Why do I matter?” Some might choose to avoid the census altogether out of fear or mistrust of how the census data might be used: “Is it safe?” It’s very safe, by the way. Census data is kept confidential for 75 years by law and cannot be used by any other governmental entity or business.
We know that in the 2010 census, Galveston failed to hit the 50,000 resident threshold. In 2010, we also know there were many areas of the island that had really low response rates, some below 70 percent. It’s heartbreaking to think of the impact we weren’t able to have for the people who live in those very neighborhoods because of all the money we lost from the undercount.
With so much on the line for our thriving island, we have to make sure we count every single Galvestonian this time.
This is where you come in. When called upon to respond to the census (self-response begins in March), treat your response as a solemn duty to yourself and to your community. Help your neighbors and friends respond to the census. Tell your co-workers how important the census is to our community. Talk about the importance of the census at school, in the grocery store, with your hairstylist.
Let’s work together to push our little island up and over and well past that 50,000 mark that eluded us in 2010. Let’s keep more of our tax dollars in our very own community to feed and shelter and move and save and treat and educate the good people of Galveston.