I was trained and began working for the decennial census back in February, but work was abruptly halted in mid-March due to the start of COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing requirements. I just got word today that the 2020 Census is resuming field work in select locations across the nation – and they have a plan to safely restart operations. According to the notice, “2020 Census operational activities have been deemed essential, mission-critical federal work.”
Due to the need for social distancing and masking to guard against new surges of the virus, we census workers will be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizer, as well as training on how to stay safe in the field.
Coincidentally, today I came across this quite anachronistic painting titled “Taking the Census” while leafing through an old edition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. I think it’s quite a “quaint” painting of a gentleman with his feather pen and young assistant visiting a family as the man of the house counts off on his fingers the number of adults and children living there.
Taking the Census, Francis William Edmonds, 1854
Who Counts in America?
Having stumbled on this 19th century painting, I went in search of newer census representations in 21st century art. Check out this amazing exhibit https://ybca.org/…/come-to-your-census-who-counts-in-ameri…/ that features works that explore and reflect critical considerations about the history of undercounting – particularly in communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities – which has resulted in the inequitable allocation of funds for local services, as well as lack of representation in government.
There are multiple reasons for the undercount, from lack of access due to limited English language or literacy issues, to lack of trust of government.
During my training, I learned that there are significant penalties if any information gathered by the census (which by the way does not include a citizenship question) is shared for any reason other than statistical data collection and analysis. These protections stay in place for 72 years, after which the information is made available in the public record for family history and other research.
Who Will Count in Lowell?
We will be making every effort to count everyone! Shout out to the tenacious Complete Count Committee in Lowell, which has been working for months on outreach strategies to insure every person is counted, and that their worth, dignity and representation are preserved. They’ve created videos explaining the census in multiple languages, and featuring Lowell residents and community leaders. You can check out the videos at this address: https://www.youtube.com/embed/cakZ4Y9Tvk8
I hope to see you in “the field” though my territory will be stretching beyond Lowell. Be well, be counted, and stay safe!