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An accurate census helps determine the state's seats in congress, federal funding and more

In this digital age, when websites, apps and emails are asking for personal information and amid fear that devices are listening in on us all, many are concerned about protecting their privacy. But as the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, Census spokespersons are encouraging people not to fear the count.

The U.S. Census Bureau is the federal government's largest statistical agency, and it provides facts and figures about people, places and economy. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a population census is conducted every 10 years.

The data from the census is used in a variety of ways, including to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress, to determine how federal funding is distributed to states, to help communities plan for residents' needs and more.

In other words, failure to participate can lead to tainted numbers and therefore less representation and less federal funding.

"When people are reticent (to participate), you're only shooting yourself in the foot, because it's your community," said Beth Federici, a recruiting assistant for the Census. "It's your roads. It's your school. So, if we don't count every single person, then we don't get an actual snapshot of how the community has grown.

"And we know in the Portland-metro area that we've all grown hugely," she continued, "but some places more than others. And even small places have grown significantly. And so, we just want to make sure we get that snapshot."

For those concerned about privacy, it's important to note that, first of all, there is no citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

"There is clearly a lot of leftover misinformation out there," said Jon Coney, a partnership specialist for the Census. "I'm getting this question every day…but we want to be very, very clear that the citizenship question is not one that is asked in Census 2020."

And secondly, personal information provided in the Census is protected under federal law, Title 13, and cannot be shared with anyone for 72 years.

According Coney, federal enforcement agencies sought Census data on Middle Eastern Americans in the wake of 9/11; but the Census Bureau refused, and the courts upheld that refusal.

"That's a stress test that the system was put through back in 2001, and that's how seriously the Census Bureau takes it and how strongly it's been upheld," Coney said.

Census Bureau employees are sworn under Title 13 to protect confidentiality; and if they violate that law, they may face a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine up to $250,000 or both.

Still, while personal information may be safe, that knock on the door can be a nuisance. But for Federici, who is passionate about the Census, that nuisance is worth it.

"Everyone should say, 'I want to be counted,' instead of 'Why are you at my door bugging me?' We just want you to be counted," Federici said. "We want you to be captured in this snapshot because you only get the chance every 10 years…For me, it's a very patriotic thing. I feel it's super important."

And for those who can't handle the knock at the door or who miss the knock, the Census will be available online. That website is not yet live, but information is already available at census.gov/programs-surveys/surveyhelp.html.

Enumerators will start surveying residents as early as February and into March, with data due by April 1.

The 2020 Census is still in need of more enumerators. To apply, fill out a simple application at 2020census.gov/en/jobs.

Justin Much contributed to this story.


Kristen Wohlers
Reporter
503-263-7512
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