Newswise — According to the United States Census Bureau, 41% of households had completed the 2020 census as of April 1. Amanda Scott, senior lecturer in English and assistant executive editor of Porter House Review, says this year’s census could face challenges and provide opportunities for those affected by the coronavirus.

The U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency, is mandated by the Constitution to count the population in the U.S., including five U.S. territories (American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of Northern Marina Islands) once every 10 years. The data collected produces information for lawmakers and others to help serve their local communities, and aids distribution of billions of dollars towards schools, roads, and hospitals. Since the first known U.S. case of COVID-19 was identified in January, the Census Bureau has followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to ensure safety and minimize exposure to the virus. 

Scott’s most recent research publication, “Matters of Form: Questions of Race, Identity, Design, and the U.S. Census,” co-authored with Deborah Balzhiser, associate professor in the Department of English and Charise Pimentel, a professor in the College of Education, provides insight into how marginalized populations can be affected by the design and distribution of the Census form. Since the Census Bureau has suspended field operations until April 15, Scott says the homeless population and others with unconventional addresses or living situations could be greatly affected.

“I’m curious to see how the Bureau will navigate and tailor to these higher-risk populations … it’s unclear what the follow-up period will be for those who are more nomadic. Suggested protocols indicate meeting these demographics at community centers and using other community partners to reach out directly to these populations."

Scott predicts a trend of younger people, especially members of the gig economy, will take on the task of field operations during the Census, rather than the typically older demographic, which is more at risk of the virus. 

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the U.S., the use of technology remains vital, as millions of people work remotely and practice social distancing. For those struggling mentally and technologically, Scott offers the following advice:

“In times of crisis, it can often feel harder to focus, but they can also offer opportunities for simplifying your life and becoming more efficient,” said Scott. “My hope is that the disruptions of the pandemic is creating stimulate more flexibility, quick problem-solving, and compassion." 

Scott says she will be following how the pandemic affects online education, especially for students who may be juggling new obligations. 

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Matters of Form: Questions of Race, Identity, Design, and the U.S. Census