2020 census indicates some U.S. social progress

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Every 10 years since 1790, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys the country’s population. The purpose of the census is to collect demographic facts about those living in the United States. While its primary function is to gather information, the format and questions of the census also reveal information about the social values of our country.

In this way, the 2020 census reflects a more progressive America, but more could be done to collect accurate, comprehensive data.

The upcoming survey will ask respondents to state their relationship in terms of “same sex” or “opposite sex.” Previously, this question was posed as “unmarried partner,” since same-sex marriage was not legalized in all 50 states until 2015, five years after the most recent census was conducted. The former wording of the question was cause for confusion, since it relied on subtle connotations rather than clear definitions. That is to say that someone in an unmarried, heterosexual partnership could also see this definition as applying to them, leading to an inaccurate collection of data about same-sex relationships in the U.S.

This change is noteworthy for its overt recognition of same-sex relationships, but in an age when same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, its inclusion is not too surprising. Despite the step this question takes in illustrating a more diverse collection of information, this category could do more to ensure accuracy. It could still lead to a non-comprehensive look at relationships in America since the binary nature of the options (same and opposite) demonstrate a lack of inclusivity for non-binary individuals.

Some strides have also been made to update the race/ethnicity categories on the census to reflect the complex composition of the United States. The 2020 census will offer a write-in option for black and white Americans to specify their ethnic backgrounds. However, this same change has not been made for other groups such as Hispanics/Latinos and Asian and Pacific Islander groups, who still have to choose from a list of categories.

Perhaps the most controversial question on the upcoming census form asks about citizenship. This question has not been asked since 1950. In 1970, however, the census began to circulate a shorter, more basic questionnaire to most U.S. households and a longer, more detailed questionnaire to a smaller sample– about 1 in 6, according toNPR. Even though the shorter questionnaire has not included a citizenship question in almost 70 years, the long-form one did include the question.

In 2020, however, the short-form questionnaire is set to include a question about the respondent’s citizenship status. The Justice Department had requested the inclusion of the question, claiming it would ensure more accurate enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

To those with the privilege of being U.S. citizens, this question may not seem like an intrusion or failure of the U.S. Census Bureau. But its inclusion may hinder aims to document how many people live in the U.S. With Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids taking place across the country, undocumented residents might have good reason to fear completing the census. This would cause the government to miss out on that vital data about the entire population living in the U.S. Therefore, the citizenship question should not be included in the census.

The census is more than just a tool to determine the country’s shifting demographic makeup. It also determines distribution of representatives, dictates federal funding to state and local governments and collects information that affects public policy decisions. An accurate census leads to a more effective U.S. government. It is not only imperative that each person living in the U.S. completes the questionnaires, but also that they feel their information is accurate. America is making progress, and our upcoming census questions prove it.