Jenny Wilson: Take time for the census, today

(LM Otero | AP photo) Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, census worker Ken Leonard wears a mask as he mans a U.S. Census walk-up counting site set up for Hunt County in Greenville, Texas, Friday, July 31, 2020.

Ten years is a long time to wait on representation. And that is what is facing thousands of residents of this state if we do not seriously make an effort to fill out the census before it’s too late.

On July 30, it was reported that the Census Bureau will shortchange key 2020 census operations and cut its door-knocking operation and self-response period by one month. The bureau is also making substantial changes to how we count people experiencing homelessness.

A successful 2020 census has to include historically undercounted communities and effectively follow up with those who didn’t respond on their own. To put it bluntly, the census is critical to hard-to-reach communities like immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, rural communities, young children and other diverse groups that have been historically undercounted.

Rushing the census means that these groups — who are also disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic — will miss out on critical community resources and political representation for the next 10 years. This is simply not acceptable.

Census data will guide decisions on how billions of dollars are distributed each year to support education, nutrition, social and workforce services for the next decade. The information will also help determine where to build homes and parks, establish new routes for public transit, build roads, prepare for emergencies and assist businesses in determining where to locate and what types of products and services to provide. Census data helps determine our political boundaries, effects our taxes, and reveals where families and neighborhoods may fall through the cracks.

Salt Lake County was fortunate enough to receive money from the federal government to help fight COVID-19 on the front lines. Only two out of Utah’s 29 counties received direct federal funding for the pandemic. And that federal decision was based entirely off of population. As we face growing economic crises, an ongoing public health response, and uncertain paths forward, an accurate count of who we are serving – and how many people we work to protect and help prosper—is entirely dependent on the census. Knowing our population will help save lives.

Please complete the 2020 census by Sept. 30. If you have already done so, thank you. Maybe call a family member, friend, colleague or member of your congregation and remind them to do the same. The census can be completed in one of 13 languages from the comfort of your home by phone or online. You should have received information in the mail, but you can access all census forms online at my2020census.gov.

The census takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and your responses are confidential. And remember, the census is designed to count everyone regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Your responses are only used to understand how many people live in the community.

In a time of so much uncertainty, when we are all doing our best to figure out what the next week looks like, let alone the next ten years, the census is an opportunity to do one small, simple act of community service that will benefit your family and mine for years to come. It’s one more check on your list of meaningful steps to take to ensure our community is more equitable, fair, and representative.

You matter. Please be counted.

Jenny Wilson

Jenny Wilson has served as mayor of Salt Lake County since January, 2019.