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From The Executive Director: The Sky Really Is Falling

By August 14, 2020August 31st, 2020No Comments

David Inoue

I’m sure you’ve heard this exhortation several times already this year. It’s part of the Census Bureau’s campaign to get everyone counted. Given the activism of our JACL membership, I hope that I am preaching to the choir and everyone reading this has completed their census responses either online at, returning your card in the mail or by calling (844) 330-2020.

Throughout this past week, only 63.5 percent of U.S. households have responded to the census. My kids today don’t get grades, but when I was in school, less than 65 percent was an F, except maybe for a few chemistry classes graded on a curve. Thank you for grading curves, or else I wouldn’t have graduated college.

The Census, though, isn’t on a curve; the Constitution is explicit in that it must be a count of every person. More than a failing grade for our census response rate, this translates into roughly 120 million people who have possibly not been counted.

Unfortunately, the actual number of people not being counted is possibly much higher as the households not being counted are lower income with possibly multiple families or extended families living together.

While some large cities that JACL has chapters in such as Seattle, San Jose and San Diego have response rates of 74 percent, 72 percent and 70 percent, respectively, even those would not be percentages to brag about to most of our parents if that were a score on a test. And yet, these are bright spots compared to some other cities with populations over 100,000 such as Hartford, Conn., and Newark, N.J., with response rates of 46 percent.

I often feel like a broken record when we remind everyone that at stake are millions of dollars from the federal government in aid to the very communities that might be undercounted by an inadequate census enumeration.

As we approach the November elections, we are reminded of the importance of the U.S. Census in allocating Congressional representation. The political effects of this year’s count will be felt for the next 10 years.

We are now at that point in a wedding where the officiant asks the attendees if anyone has anything to say or forever hold their peace. It’s time to say something, do something. We need to make sure that everyone gets counted. It is time to stand up and say something, proclaim that we need to make sure that everyone is represented.

Consider that the national percentages indicate that more than one in three households have not been counted. Based on that, one of your two next-door neighbors might very well have not responded to the U.S. Census yet. Start there.

Make sure your neighbors have been counted. Expand that out to everyone on your street, in your apartment building, at work. These might not necessarily be the hard-to-count households you will be reaching with this outreach, but making sure your close contacts have been counted means less households that the enumerators will need to cover when they begin going door to door.

We have less than two months to obtain a complete count. I don’t expect our JACL chapters or members to go out and start counting people door to door, but we can reach out to our personal and organizational networks to make sure everyone we do know and interact with has been and is counted. It’s easy for things like this to get lost in the shuffle of so many other more pressing things happening in our lives, especially in this year of seemingly endless chaos.

In the story of Chicken Little, an acorn falls on a chicken’s head, making her think the sky is falling. She proceeds to gather up all her friends to go tell the king. In the end, they are all eaten by a fox because they have been drawn in to this fool’s errand.

Unfortunately, the sky truly is falling due to the Census Bureau shortening its schedule to complete its count. Abbreviating the time enumerators will be knocking on doors by nearly 40 percent will do nothing to help get an accurate count. Sadly this time, it is the fox creating the panic.

We need to respond so that we don’t get eaten in the end, and we must make sure that the Census Bureau does count every person in the U.S. The story of Chicken Little tells us not to panic, but we are in a crisis, and it is time to respond.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.