The Christmas story of Joseph and Mary traveling through the desert to the town where Jesus was born has taken on a whole new meaning for me this holiday season for a specific reason: the 2020 U.S. Census is coming in April.
As everyone knows from the narrative in the Gospel of Luke, what took Jesus’ earthly parents to Bethlehem was a decree for everyone to travel to the town of their roots to be counted in the census that was being conducted throughout the Roman world at the time.
How crowded it must have been in little Bethlehem for Mary to have to lay her newborn son in a manger because all the available lodging was occupied with out-of-towners! What a communication and cultural nightmare both locals and foreigners must have faced when trying to ask or answer questions, or to get or give directions.
The U.S. Census that’s coming up sounds heavenly compared to the trials and tribulations of baby Jesus, his parents and everyone else who had to invest so much time and energy to be counted. And not just to be counted, but to be counted so they could be taxed.
Our upcoming U.S. Census is a much kinder and gentler one.
For one thing, while also mandated — by the U.S. Constitution in our case — the U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years not to tax people (the Internal Revenue Service already takes care of that yearly), but rather to ensure that, based on population counts, every community receives adequate funding and government representation. In California, we lose close to $2,000 in federal funding per person, per year, for 10 years, for everyone who is missed in the census count.
Also, responding to the 2020 U.S. Census survey will be easy — possibly the easiest it has ever been — for two reasons: 1) For the first time, we will be able to respond to it on paper, online or by phone. The U.S. Census Bureau boasts that it’s just 10 questions that can be answered in 10 minutes, and 2) For those whose native language is not English, the Census Bureau will provide either the forms or assistance in dozens of languages.
Finally, whereas the census of the Bible included respondents’ personal information — ancestral lineage, for example — the U.S. Census is completely confidential. Personal data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in next year’s census cannot be released for 72 years, until 2092, when most respondents will be dead. Until then, the information collected can only be used to produce statistics and cannot be shared with other government agencies. Those violating this rule face up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.
So why am I such a census geek? Well, because I am participating in the local community-wide effort to prepare for our upcoming census as a member of the Kern Complete Count Committee, a collaborative of community leaders representing nonprofits, faith-based organizations, local government, media and other stakeholders, all working to ensure everyone in Kern gets counted accurately.
We focus primarily on the hard-to-count populations that include such folks as migrant workers, low-income families and individuals, rural dwellers, the homeless and, believe it or not, children ages 0 to 5. Little ones often get missed in the census because they are newly born, living in large or split households, staying with relatives or for other complex reasons.
Much more outreach is coming from our local KCCC, which is spearheaded by the County Administrative Office and involves many partners, including my employer, Kern Community Foundation.
We urge everyone in Kern to ponder the Christmas census story this holiday season and make it a point to be counted in next year's census so that our community receives all the government funding and representation it deserves.
You count. Everyone counts. Kern counts. In fact, the KCCC’s official website and social media hashtag are KernCounts.org and #KernCounts.
Census reminder postcards will be sent out in the mail by the U.S. Census Bureau next March. Be on the lookout for them. When you receive them, follow the instructions and respond to the census so you and your household can be counted.
In the meantime, be grateful that we don't have to travel through the desert on foot or by donkey to be counted. Merry Christmas!
Louis Medina is the director of community impact for Kern Community Foundation, a member agency of the Kern Complete Count Committee.