Op-Ed: Complete your census for St. Louis

Colleen Smyth | Student Engagement Coordinator at the Gephardt Institute

Ten years from now, how will your life be different? Where will you be? And what things will have changed? What if one decision you made today would have an impact on your life and the St. Louis community a decade from now? Every ten years, people from communities across the United States are required to fill out the US Census, a thirteen question form that asks questions about age, race, homeownership and number of persons living in your household. Census takers often hear things like, “I don’t think the census has an impact on my life” or “I don’t have time to fill it out” and “I don’t want to share my personal information.” What they may not realize is that 1) the census impacts everyday resources people use in the United States, 2) it takes less than ten minutes to fill out and is accessible online and 3) census data by federal law is protected and cannot be shared with any other government agency.

Though issued only once per decade, the census count determines over $675 billion in federal dollars for schools, hospitals, and other critical services in our communities. It provides vital information upon which lawmakers and researchers make decisions that impact our daily lives. For those who are passionate about politics and representation, it tracks migration patterns and population and is the foundation for redrawing legislative districts every ten years. For those who care about education, it determines funding for school lunch assistance, Head Start, after school programs, and special education. And for those who are concerned with healthcare access, it is tied to funding for Medicaid and disability benefits.

As a college student, you have a special role to play. Cities like St. Louis and college towns across the United States depend on students in the census count, and Washington University in St. Louis is no exception. Having an accurate tally of who and how many people are living in these areas the majority of the year is critical to securing funding for vital infrastructure that affects the daily lives of college students and neighboring St. Louisans. Funding for Title 1 schools, Section 8 Housing and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are just a few of the programs that rely on census data. That data determines how federal resources are allocated to local communities like these for the next 10 years. They offer essential resources to many and affect the well-being and civic health of the St. Louis community.

As a college student, filling out the census is one easy and important way that you can perform your civic duties from wherever you are around the globe! And completing it at your address in St. Louis is how you can be for St. Louis and with St. Louis. In light of COVID-19, the Census Bureau is still counting college students, citizens or not, as if they are at their university residences, whether it be in residential housing or off campus apartments. If you have relocated out of St. Louis due to campus closures, you should still be counted as if you are in St. Louis. One census form is submitted per residence, so when you’re ready to submit your form, get with your roommates and make a plan! If you previously lived in university housing, you will be counted by Residential Life through the group quarters enumeration process.

If you have questions about the census, you can find out more updated information at census.wustl.edu. Thank you for exercising your civic duty during this critical moment in history! Wash. U. counts and you count!

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