The 2020 census has put many foundations on a state of high alert. Getting an accurate count on the census is important because the data collected is used to determine not only representation in Congress, but also the destination of federal dollars. In the private sector, businesses and nonprofits use the data to make decisions about where their services are needed.
Although there’s a constitutional mandate to count everyone, some people are more likely to be left out of the count than others. Low-income people and minorities tend to be overlooked by the census. Children younger than five are another blind spot, along with young adults and others who tend to move around a lot or live in nontraditional housing. Immigrants, documented and undocumented, are also often undercounted—a problem that could worsen if the Trump administration succeeds in adding a question about citizenship status to the census. (So far, the proposal has been blocked by federal courts.) Meanwhile, higher-income, white households tend to be overcounted.
Philanthropy has been keenly engaged in the 2020 census, seeking to shore up efforts to reach hard-to-count populations and backing advocacy to fight the citizenship question. It’s an investment that makes sense. Accurate counts that maintain or increase federal and state support for vulnerable groups would free up foundations to take on more strategic, innovative work. When government programs go underfunded, philanthropy’s coffers are tied up picking up the slack. Over the past year, we’ve reported on a number of national and local philanthropic initiatives that take on the barriers facing the 2020 Census.