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Talk: BHAM to the Max

Although it may not seem like it at times, every single person in Birmingham matters. They’re important. They have value. They have significant worth. And I don’t mean in the sense that all human life is intrinsically important. That’s true as well, of course, but I’m talking about something deeper—all Birminghamians matter as a number to be counted in this year’s census! 

Between March 12-20th of this year, our good friends at the United States Census Bureau will be mailing out a shiny new questionnaire to every household, including yours! And for those with a crippling suspicion towards mailing back government forms, the Census Bureau has added an unprecedented innovation this year—people will also be able to fill out their census forms online and by phone. 

Every good little American school child knows that having a Census is mandated by the Constitution every decade, and while it may just seem like busy work for bureaucrats, its results actually play a foundational role in shaping the future of not only the country, but of the community that you live in. Things like the number of Congressional representatives per state, federal funding, and state, local, and federal redistricting are dependent on having an accurate count. Based on the census returns, district boundaries are redrawn to ensure each one contains roughly the same number of voters. This directly impacts the power of your vote and helps prevent gerrymandering.

Ensuring a complete census count in 2020 is critical for Alabama. Due to stagnant population growth, an undercount could result in the loss of two congressional seats, in addition to millions in vital federal funding for community service providers across the state. In terms of keeping Birmingham’s recent momentum going, it is imperative that we aren’t undercounted in order to be eligible for our fair share of the $900 billion in federal grants to states and cities that the census affects.

It’s estimated that the 2010 census missed about 2.1 percent of the African-American population and 1.5 percent of the Hispanic population. This can have a negative impact on how those communities are represented, both on a local and national level. And with a city that’s 75% African-American, undercounts can have even more significant ramifications. 

Recently, concerns over a citizenship question being added to the census have worried analysts who believe such a move would chill participation—roughly 7 percent of the country’s population is comprised of non-citizens. However, under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies. On top of that, a federal judge issued an order last July definitively blocking the current administration from adding a citizenship question to the upcoming census. 

Unfortunately, due to its prominence in the media, quite a bit of damage around the citizenship question has already been done, and fear still exists among many Hispanics living in America. Fortunately, Birmingham is a town full of caring organizations and activists, and several are teaming up as part of the Alabama Hard-to-Count Collaborative, to make sure that Birminghamians who are too important to ignore are also counted in the Census. The Hispanic Interest Coalition and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice are incorporating census education as part of their immigrant assistance and civic engagement programs to make sure their constituents know how to complete the census form. Greater Birmingham Ministries will be hosting presentations from social justice organizations about the importance of census participation as part of its weekly grocery assistance program, and the Birmingham Public Library System will be hosting “Census Fridays” at each of their branches in the coming months, as well as helping people fill out their census questionnaires online.

As scam artists get ever more sophisticated, there will be all sorts of shysters trying to use the Census as a way to further their own nefarious interests. Last month, a friend of mine showed me a picture of a fake census form that his grandmother received in the mail. It was sent in an official government-looking envelope, and included the infamous citizenship question. This was not a legitimate form, as was most likely sent to either discourage participation from vulnerable populations, to steal valuable personal information, or both. So if you see such a form in your mailbox—discard it. It’s a scam. 

So stay vigilant, but do take a few minutes to participate in the Census, and encourage your fellow Birminghamiams, and your fellow Americans to do the same. The future of our nation depends on it!

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