Be counted: United Methodists urging S.C. to participate in 2020 Census

Federal dollars, representative voice, demographics among reasons

By Jessica Brodie

In the middle of the coronavirus lockdown, there’s one thing South Carolina United Methodists can do to help others without ever leaving their home: Take the 2020 Census.

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census to count every resident in the United States. Data from the 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, impact billions in federal funding and provide data to help communities for the next decade.

And this year, the Advocacy area of Connectional Ministries is encouraging all people of faith in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church to participate in the census and ensure a complete count.

“It is important for everyone to be counted,” said the Rev. Bernie Mazyck, co-convener of the Advocacy area, noting the census is not only legitimate, biblical and required by law, but also a vital way for the nation to gather necessary information about communities so it can adequately serve, fund and represent.

“It gives us our demographic information, gives us a profile of who we are, tells us info about health status and is used for deploying federal funds and for representation at all levels of government,” Mazyck said.

The Rev. Millie Nelson Smith agreed, noting, “I believe now, even more than before, that the census is going to be crucial to communities so that they will be able to get what they need, particularly as we navigate the months ahead and beyond.”

Smith said churches can help get the word out about the importance of each person and each household being counted.

“As we seek to comply with social distancing, local churches can use their means of communication such as email, automated calls, social media and telephone to encourage their congregations and those in the community to complete the forms that have already been received by many in the mail already,” Smith said. “How funding and services will be determined will depend on the data received. We need all to be counted.”

In March, each home should have received an invitation to respond to the census, a short questionnaire they can take online, by phone or by mail. Census workers will also survey and count people experiencing homelessness, whether in shelters, at soup kitchens or mobile food vans, on the streets and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments. Census workers will also visit people living in senior centers, college dormitories and other locations to make sure no one is left out.

But the reality, Mazyck said, is people are being left out.

Fear and misunderstanding

There are several hard-to-count populations in South Carolina, Mazyck said, including children birth to age 6, African-American men, Native Americans and the Hispanic/Latino community.

One reason they can be harder to count is because, in the case of children, sometimes families don’t think young children should be counted, or a child is staying with a relative temporarily and they get left out.

“There are many misunderstandings,” Mazyck said.

But another key reason is fear, he said.

“Today because of concerns about how information is used, our immigrant brothers and sisters or others who hear negative information fear sharing their information,” Mazyck said.

There’s also a historical fear among African American and Native American people, he said.

“There’s always this, ‘How’s that information going to be used, are they going to come after me’ fear,” Mazyck said.

Rest assured, he said—all information collected by the census is confidential.

“When you fill out an individual census form, that information is confidential for 70 years by law and cannot be disclosed,” Mazyck said.

South Carolina has changed a great deal in the last 10 years, which is why this year it is especially important for people to participate. There are new ethnic groups in South Carolina now, and a changed gender breakdown.

“We need that accurate count to be a prosperous state,” Mazyck said, noting the census funds so many things, from education and housing to public assistance and the justice system. “We don’t want to lose out on any dollar that can come to South Carolina.”

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution mandates the country conduct a count of its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will mark the 24th time this nation has counted its population since 1790.

Mazyck also noted there is a biblical tie-in. Mary and Joseph were called to his birthplace and ancestral home for the census, so Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

For more on the census:

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