Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 28, 2020
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COURTESY OF CHRIS H. PARK

Speakers discussed why students should register for the 2020 Census.

Former Maryland Senator and Professor of Public Policy Barbara Mikulski delivered a keynote address on the 2020 U.S. Census in Levering Hall’s Glass Pavilion on Monday. She was joined by panelists Mary Elizabeth Hughes, associate scientist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Austin Davis, 2020 Census manager for Baltimore City’s Department of Planning. 

Stuart Schrader, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, moderated the event, which was hosted by the Center for Social Concern; Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute; 21st Century Cities Initiative; and the Program in Racism, Immigration and Citizenship. 

University President Ronald J. Daniels delivered opening remarks, highlighting the consequences of being counted in the Census for Baltimore’s future. He also cited recent statistics for undergraduate voter participation rates, noting that these rates were not impressive nationally for undergraduates. 

Following Daniels’ remarks, Schrader introduced Mikulski for her keynote address. Mikulski began her speech by emphasizing how in a census, every person counts.

She characterized the Census as a civil rights issue and stressed the possibility of census oppression. The Census determines 80 percent of the funds that a city will get towards housing, school lunch programs, Medicaid and mass transit.

The former senator further described the repercussions of this data.

“The Census is only as good as the methods it uses, the questions it asks and how the data is translated into public policy,” Mikulski said. “Federal funds are becoming more spartan. There has been a major disinvestment in cities and programs that help and empower the poor.”

Schrader followed these remarks with a brief review of the logistics of the Census.

“Census day is April 1, and where you live on April 1 is where you should be counted in the Census,” Schrader said. “If you live in a dorm on Hopkins campus, Hopkins will make sure you’re counted. If you live off campus, it is your responsibility.”

Davis stressed the importance for students who know they will be temporary residents of Baltimore to fill out the Census. He also explained that when his department uses census data for emergency planning, there are often a lot of gaps in information. 

“When the data is inaccurate, we are unable to serve the city to the fullest,” Davis said. “Also, though you will not always be here, someone else will be here in your place for the next 10 years.”

Hughes addressed solutions to getting data in some of these areas with low response rates. She explained that there are certain characteristics of people who are less likely to answer the Census. Some of these characteristics include being an older adult, a person experiencing homelessness, certain racial or ethic minorities, immigrants, renters and young children. There are 69 neighborhoods identified in Baltimore as “hard to count areas.”

Panelists also emphasized that the Census will not contain a citizenship question. The Trump administration and the Commerce Department under Secretary Wilbur Ross attempted to add the question, but the Supreme Court ruled against the attempt.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, in the majority opinion of the Court, that the rationale for the question provided by the Trump administration was insufficient. The Trump administration declined to challenge the ruling, citing insufficient time. 

During a question and answer session that followed the talk, an audience member inquired about whether participants should be concerned about information security now that the Census is being filled out online. 

Davis clarified that the Census Bureau instantly gets rid of any personal data upon submission. It is a federal offense to share Census data that can result in a five-year federal prison sentence or up to a $250,000 fine. 

Hughes added that federal agencies cannot share data between each other. She also added that the Census Bureau does lots of editing and cross-check responses to prevent any duplicate submissions and ensure the quality of the data.

Mikulski ensured that people and their data will remain safe, stressing that Census data cannot be used as a political weapon. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Mikulski further weighed in on the Trump administration’s push to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census.

“I believe that the intent of the founders of the nation when they wrote the Constitution, [the Census] was for residents. We should stick with the founders’ intent, stick with the Constituent and stick with [Justice Roberts’] opinion,” she said.

Mikulski served as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1987 to 2017. She discussed how the Census data affected her work while on this committee.

“We put money in the federal checkbook for important programs, and they are supposed to go to communities of need. The way you identify the need is through the Census,” Mikulski said. “So the Census was an important tool, and what was great about it was that it took the politics out of it. It was based on demography. Do the math, close the disparities.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, Hughes stressed the importance of the Census in her work as a demographer, an expert in the study of statistics relating to the changing structure of human populations.

“As a demographer, we are very interested in fertility rates and mortality rates, and the Census Bureau provides the denominators of those rates. That’s a very basic use,” Hughes said. “More importantly, the Census provides the foundation for other data products. There are data sets that are built into the Census, such as the Population Estimates Program and the American Community Survey.”

She also said that the Census results will have a great impact on public health research. 

“Census derived data sets provide information about population needs. Everything from building a new hospital to whether, in an area, the population of elderly is growing and what the area should do. Should the hospital build a new birthing facility or a new ICU?” Hughes said. “So public health is a data-driven field and we rely on Census data for that.”

Junior Claire Zou, an intern for the Center for Social Concern, attended the event. In an interview with The News-Letter, echoed the panelists in stressing the importance of student participation in the Census.

“Filling out the Census is an extremely important responsibility that everyone owes their community,” she said. “Community investment counts on you to fill out the Census.”

Zou specifically referred to the importance of accurate Census data in order to properly allocate resources around the country.

Senior Turquoise Baker said that while she already knew a lot of the information presented in the event, she still enjoyed attending and appreciated how the panelists took questions from the audience. 

Baker specifically recalled a question about how the Census counts people experiencing homelessness. She described this as an interesting and important question.

“I really liked the panel and all of the people who were selected to speak,” she said. “I thought it was nice that Senator Mikulski was there as well. She has been a pioneer for civil rights and women’s rights.”

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