The census is coming. Get counted.

Liz Codina on how important an accurate 2020 count is for Nebraska, particularly for the state's communities of color.

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At the start of each new decade, the U.S. Constitution requires that the country’s population be counted. This year, Census Day is April 1 – and an accurate count in our state is critical.

According to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the census establishes Nebraska’s portion of all federal funds for the next 10 years. When our residents are not accurately counted, our state misses out on dollars that would otherwise be put to use locally.  

Many groups across the state and nation continue to raise concerns about how communities of color and low-income Americans are at risk of being undercounted in 2020. Community members with low incomes, especially people of color, are more likely to move more frequently and live in multi-family dwellings. This makes it more difficult for them to be counted.

Communities of color also face language barriers, information gaps, and fear that they may be targeted through the information they provide, making it more likely for some to voluntarily opt out.

Yet, all voices are needed. All voices are critical to the success of our state and our country.

The reality is that African Americans, Hispanics, and other communities of color are at high risk of losing representation in Congress as well as their share of billions of dollars each year for their communities and schools, plus health care, workforce training, and other resources.

In 2015, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said communities of color accounted for nearly 18 percent of Nebraskans. The number of people that could be left out is alarming.

We know that the median household income for communities of color is significantly less compared with non-Hispanic Whites in Nebraska. When it comes to educational achievement and good-paying jobs, communities of color also face disproportionate barriers. In fact, a recent Georgetown University report said that “inequities in access to good jobs by race and ethnicity have grown in the past decades.” Traditionally marginalized communities already face gross systemic barriers that impede their ability to achieve a high quality of life in Nebraska.

That’s why we must all do our part to ensure that everyone gets counted. We all need a chance.

Nebraska’s situation is somewhat unique. Most states have formed what the U.S. Census Bureau calls Complete Count Committees to provide local assistance in getting as complete and accurate count as possible. In 2019, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill that would have established such a statewide committee. The governor vetoed the bill, however, indicating that several cities in Nebraska had already formed local committees.

Here’s the good news for Nebraska: There are many ways that average Nebraskans can help. Stakeholders across the state – nonprofits, educational institutions, funders, and many others – are working hard right now to ensure a more accurate census count by April. You can join this effort and help shape your community, too.

As a famous senator once said: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Liz Codina supports efforts to build thriving communities. She is among the leaders of the South Omaha Business Association and is vice-president of the Metro Young Latino Professionals Association. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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