Marc Morial

“If our people are not counted, they literally do not receive the resources necessary,” said Stacy Abrams, founder of Fair Count and former Georgia gubernatorial nominee. “And as a consequence, we have weaker infrastructure, we have terrible hospitals, we have doctor shortages, we have overcrowded schools. All of those things happen because of the Census.”  

Beginning on Thursday, March 12, households across America will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail.  

This marks the first phase in the most urgent imperative of the decade. More than just a head count, the decennial census determines how legislative districts are drawn, how voting power is distributed among  communities, and how $675 billion in federal dollars will be allocated and invested. 

If black people are undercounted by 1.7 million, as many forecasts predict, it will cost states $3.4 billion a year.

As soon as households receive this invitation in the mail, they can respond online, by phone, or by mail. This is the first time in history Americans can respond to the Census online. The information arriving in mailboxes next week will list a website listed and a Census ID, which can be used starting March 12.

All responses, whether given online, by mail or in person, are confidential under federal law.

I can’t overstate how important it is for black Americans to participate in the Census. This will be the 24th Census undertaken in the history of the nation, and for the first eight, most African Americans counted as only three-fifths of a person.

Historically, African Americans have been undercounted. In 1970, my predecessor Whitney M. Young testified to Congress that there had been a 15 percent undercount of black families, though official Census statistics place the figure near 8 percent.

“The extent to which the 1960 undercount has shortchanged inner-city residents of the political representation and economic assistance to which they are entitled is incalculable,” Young testified. “Two million blacks missed in 1960 could symbolize the loss of five congressmen and scores of state legislators to the black community.”

In response to the failures of the Census to accurately count African Americans, Young launched the first Make Black Count campaign with a coalition of other civil rights organizations. To prevent another historic undercount, we have revived this historic campaign.

April 1 is Census Day. Every household in America will have received an invitation to participate by this date . Wherever you’re living on April 1, is what you will report as your address.  Whoever is living at that dwelling on that date – every single person, whether related or not – should be count as a member of that household. 

During April, census-takers will begin visiting places where large groups of people live, such as college campuses and senior-citizen centers.

Throughout the summer, census-takers will visit homes who have not responded online or by mail. 

The Census Bureau will deliver the count to Congress in December.

The next few months are critical if we want our communities fairly represented.

Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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