May 18, 2020

The US Census and Public Health

YWCA Spokane Encourages Census Completion

Impact of the 2020 Census 

Census data is used for ten years after it’s completion to inform decisions regarding the allocation of over $675 billion in federal government funding for social service and assistance programs. To learn more about the census, please check out our other Census 2020 blog post with more in-depth information about the history, practicalities, and importance of the Census. Also, visit the US Census Bureau’s Census 101 informational guide.

While the desire is to have all experiences represented in census data collection, in reality, there are multiple populations at risk of being underrepresented due to barriers with census engagement and completion. These gaps in data collection are associated with drastically impactful outcomes for the communities who are underrepresented, for social service organizations, and for society as a whole. To learn more about disparities in Census completion and the impacts of an incomplete count, visit our other blog post

Census Importance During Pandemic

As we’ve all been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are understandably paying more attention to our nation’s public health systems. If you asked most of us to identify some of the most influential factors, we probably wouldn’t guess the US Census first. But as it turns out, census data has long been used to support many of the things we take for granted every day. Data cannot solve all of our problems, of course, but it can provide vital information that helps guide public health responses in really important ways. 

One of the most important functions of census data is determining how federal funding is distributed. The 2010 census helped direct over 16 billion dollars in federal funding to the state of Washington. Some of the most widely-used health programs are dependent on this funding, like Medicaid, Medicare part B, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children (SNAP or WIC). Public health clinics like CHAS are also federally funded, and census data about their communities can determine how much funding they get. Public safety and first responder organizations, like ambulances, EMS, and Fire & Rescue, also use census data to receive grant funding. The more accurate the information, the more accurate the funding support.

The Census Bureau can even provide emergency preparedness resources based on data collected by its surveys. While the 2020 Census Questionnaire is sent to everyone and consists of ten simple questions, there are many other voluntary surveys the Bureau uses to gather data about the US population. With this combined information, the Census Bureau can provide information about disability prevalence, health care expenses and investments, fertility, health insurance, and more. Other public health organizations can use census data to calculate the rates and prevalence of diseases. They can even map out environmental hazards, infectious disease dynamics, and risk factors based on social dynamics like race, age, and income. 

One thing this information allows the Bureau to do is create live data hubs based on far-reaching public health incidents and disasters–such as earthquakes, tropical storms, and COVID-19. You can look at information regarding insurance coverage, risk factors, and the economic landscape of the pandemic in your state (and even your county!) using the Census COVID-19 Data Hub


Call to Action: Complete your Census, Support your Community

If the census isn’t at the top of your mind, don’t worry. You’re not alone in that, as many of us face uncertainty with finances, safety, housing, and other challenges. Let this be a gentle reminder to take the ten minutes to respond to the census if you haven’t yet. Let them know who is in our communities and what we need. Now, more than ever, an accurate picture of the US population and all of its dynamic and wonderful variances is vitally important. 

If you want to respond to the census online, you can do so here. 

Need language resources or technical support? Find their list of toll-free helplines in 13 languages here, and video language guides for the online survey here.


Written content for The US Census and Public Health provided by YWCA Spokane staff member, Brit Wilson.


YWCA Spokane is Here for You

If you or someone you know is impacted by intimate partner domestic violence, know that confidential advocates are always available through our 24hr helpline services by calling 509-326-2255, emailing help@ywcaspokane.org, or texting 509-220-3725. 

To learn more about accessing additional services through YWCA Spokane during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit ywcaspokane.org/services. Thank you!

By: Mia Morton

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