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Completing census will help La Crosse County remain great

April 10, 2020

Jamie Schloegel, Executive DirectorBy Jamie Schloegel, Executive Director

As our community and the nation focus on containing the spread of COVID-19, we need to remember that this, too, shall pass, and we need to be prepared for life beyond the pandemic. One of the most important ways we can do that right now is to complete the 2020 census.

Results of the census will determine much of what happens in and to our community and region in coming years. Census results will affect everything from equal employment opportunities to voting districts and even congressional representation. They will also determine funding for many local programs that make La Crosse a great place to live, work and raise families.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of participating in the census. A 2018 Census Bureau survey found that fewer than half of the respondents understood that census numbers directly affect their community’s future. More concerning, the same survey found that two in five respondents, many of them under age 35, felt being personally counted didn’t matter.

Making matters worse, the study showed that racial and ethnic minorities were concerned about confidentiality, far more so than whites, perhaps partially explaining why they are undercounted.

The Urban Institute estimates black people, for example, were undercounted in the last two decennial census counts by about 2%, or 800,000 people. It also estimates the 2020 census could stand to undercount black Wisconsin residents by around 14,700 and Latinx Wisconsin residents by 12,000. Its data also suggest that native Americans (by about 1,000) and Asian Americans (by 2,200) will be undercounted in Wisconsin.

Confidentiality concerns should not dissuade anyone from participating in the 2020 census. Title 13 of the federal code, prohibits the census and its employees from sharing anyone’s name and address with anyone, including law enforcement.

Undocumented immigrants should also participate. A move to include a citizenship question in the 2020 form was blocked by courts. The census is truly just seeking to know how many people of different races, ethnicities and ages are residing in the U.S.

Indeed, the census is one place where truly every one counts. Each year, the federal government allocates $675 billion for education, health care, roads and other vital programs. They use census data to determine what share will go to each community, county and state. That means your participation will determine La Crosse’s share of more than $6 trillion to be spent over the next ten years.

You alone could account for $2,000 each year in funding for programs and services that benefit our community. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, census-guided federal spending supports the following (and more):

·       Local schools — Head Start, special education, rural education, teacher grants and school lunches.

·       Higher education — Pell Grants.

·       Health care — Medicaid, Medicare Part B, state children’s health insurance, treatment for substance use disorders.

·       Community infrastructure — roads, bridges, federal transit, community development block grants, rural water and waste disposal systems, affordable housing.

·       Employment training — vocational rehabilitation grants and services for displaced workers.

·       Human services — child abuse prevention programs, foster care, emergency shelter, housing for people with disabilities, homelessness, children’s justice grants.

·       Wildlife restoration and grants.

At the La Crosse Community Foundation, we receive grant requests throughout the year for programs in all these categories. We know the need for funding is real. When you complete the census, you help assure that our community gets a fair share of federal funds for these important purposes. And all you need to do is take five minutes to complete the form.

With the free time we now have at home, there’s no excuse to participate.