Census 2020: Counting People Who Speak Little English

Feb 27, 2020

DENVER -- Getting an accurate count in the upcoming 2020 Census could be a big factor in determining whether federally funded agencies can provide the same services other Americans rely on to people with a limited ability to read, write or speak English.

Stella Yu, founder of the youth program Arts Street, says it's important for all of Colorado's communities to show up in the once-a-decade count, and she notes the census form can be filled out in 13 different languages.

"Historically, communities who speak only a little bit of English have not been accurately counted," she points out. "Instructions are available in 59 different languages including American Sign Language and Braille."

In 2015, more than 300,000 Colorado residents said they were less than fully fluent in English, and spoke a different language at home.

Federal agencies and private subcontractors are required to make services available to all U.S. residents, regardless of language proficiency.

An accurate Census count can help ensure that the right translators and support materials are available -- in hospitals, schools, and among fire departments and first responders -- when they're needed.

Some community advocates worry that people who speak limited amounts of English may shy away from census participation out of fear still lingering in the wake of the Trump administration's quest to add a citizenship question.

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the question, but many people are skeptical about giving the government personal information.

Yu says all data in the Census form is protected, and records are confidential for 72 years under federal law.

"Census workers take an oath for life to protect your information," she stresses. "By law, Census data cannot be shared with immigration or any government agency."

Census data helps determine how states are represented in Congress, and how billions of tax dollars are distributed for programs supporting agriculture, infrastructure, schools, public safety and health initiatives.

Guides in 59 languages along with videos designed to help people complete the Census form, are available online at census.gov.