September 3, 2020
The 2020 Census concludes September 30th. The counting of each and every person living in the United States is required by our nation’s Constitution and must take place every 10 years.
An accurate Census count is a cornerstone of our democracy. The results of the Census significantly affect our lives—from ensuring equal representation in Congress, to funding for schools, roads, firefighters, health care, and more. But with less than a month left, 30 percent of Washington residents have yet to complete the census. For every 100 households that do not complete the census, Washington State stands to lose up to $5.8 million in federal funding for crucial programs that impact the well-being of everyone.
Interestingly, however, the Torah forbids the direct counting of the Israelites. In fact, in II Samuel 24, King David takes a direct-count census, and as punishment, the nation is struck by fatal disease. Rabbinic scholars have many explanations as to why this ban exists. One modern interpretation is that accounting for individuals through numbers alone risks our losing sight of B’tselem Elokim, the unique face of G-d or humanity within each of us.
Yet, in today’s society, an accurate Census count is critical for keeping our community strong.
When it comes to the U.S. Census, some in power have, both in the past and currently, tried to reduce our count. One of the consequences of these efforts is stripping undercounted communities of their voice, their value, and their humanity. Blocking the Census count of vulnerable people who are minorities, immigrants, or experiencing homelessness virtually ensures our communities will be deprived of crucial resources for basic services like health care and education as well as fair representation in the halls of government.
Further impeding an accurate count in the 2020 Census is the lingering impact of the attempt to add a question of citizenship. Though the Supreme Court ruled that citizenship was not relevant to the Census and so the question was not included, many immigrants remain fearful that any information they provide on the Census will be used against them.
Because of the history of persecution against our people, the Jewish community can understand the fear of demographic information being used against us. Thankfully, today, the vast majority of us are not afraid to participate in the Census. It’s important that we help communities who, for reasons such as citizenship, are fearful of what being counted may mean for them and their families. If you’d like to learn how you can do more to help encourage the participation of undercounted communities, visit WeCountWashington.org.
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs