It’s the dawn of a new decade, and it’s important that we make 2020 count—literally. Every ten years, the United States Census Bureau conducts a census to record everyone living in the country. The information and data collected is used to determine the allocation of state and federal funding, and the reapportionment of Congressional seats. This means the census has a direct impact on the social services your community receives, the education programs your local schools can support, the quality of your highways and transportation systems, and your representation in the government.
Counting every individual in the US is no small feat (And you thought you had a large troop roster!) so we all can do our part to make sure that our information is accurately recorded. Read on for some fun activities to do with your troop to help make sense of the 2020 Census.
What’s the Census?
If you’re not sure what the census is, or how it works, watch this quick PSA to find out. By April 1 (a.k.a., Census Day) all households will have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census with information on how to respond online, by phone or mail. During May through July, census takers will follow up with households who didn’t respond to make sure everyone is counted.
What kind of information does the census ask about? In a nutshell: who you are and who’s living with you. You can explore the questions and reasons why they ask them on the official Census website.
Conduct a mock census with your troop. Have your girls come up with some general Girl Scout-related questions and corresponding answers (like “What’s your favorite Girl Scout activity?” or “Did you participate in the Cookie Program this year?”), then create a survey on paper or online through Survey Monkey or Survey Legend. Carry out the survey (girls can take turns being the census taker), compile and graph their responses. What did they find out from the results? What action will they take after learning about the results. (If the majority of the troop loved going on hikes, for example, will you plan more hikes in the future?)
How Do We Compare?
The US Census Bureau has a few neat online resources to let you review data from past censuses. State Facts for Students breaks down data by state and includes fun facts like how many toy and candy stores are in their states. QuickFacts (better for older kids) lets users see the basic population, business, and geography statistics for all states and counties, and for cities and towns with more than 5,000 people.
For younger program grade levels, use the State Facts for Students site to explore who makes up their state. For example, how many people live in the state? What population group grew the most between the censuses? How does their state compare to a neighboring state (i.e., Minnesota vs. Wisconsin)?
For older girls, using QuickFacts, choose a few cities or states and select the “Table” feature to compare and contrast with their own community. (A data point I personally found interesting was “Transportation—Mean Travel Time to Work,” if not only to commiserate about commute times.)
Who Gets a Seat?
Quick—how many seats are there in the US House of Representatives? If you answered 435, you’d be correct! Now, what’s the formula that’s used to determine how many representatives each state gets, as mandated by the Method of Equal Portion? (I had to Google that one too.) Population shifts (which we know about because of—ding ding ding—the census) also have an impact on each state’s representation in Congress. Unlike the Senate, which allocates two Senators per state, each state’s number of House Representatives fluctuates depending on the state’s population.
The following activity is great for older Girl Scouts, especially Seniors who are working on their Behind the Ballot badge. First, watch the Amazing Apportionment Machine to understand the process of how seats in the House of Representatives are divided. Then look at the census results over time (since the Nation’s founding) and look for trends—which state populations grew over time? Decreased? How did that impact the number of representatives their state had? What would happen to that number if the census didn’t accurately record everyone in the state?
The census is critical, but it’s also important to remember that the census’ undertaking can be fraught for specific groups of people. Dig into this history and reflect on who “counted” and who didn’t. Read about the six questions that the first US Census asked and look at the census questionnaires over time. What has changed? What hasn’t?
The census—it happens but once every ten years. Along with voting and advocating for positive change, participating in the census is part of our civic duty. Making sure you’re counted in the census is just one way to ensure that your voice matters.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (and rescue dog, Neil!)