by Ken Maryanski

What, started in January, will affect every person in the United States, guide the flow of hundreds of billions of federal dollars and steer government and business planning for 10 years? If you answered the start of a new decade, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.

Because 2020 brings the decennial census, and on Jan. 21, the first person was counted — in the remote Alaska Native village of Toksook Bay. Census takers have to get an early start in Alaska before the ground thaws into marsh and residents leave for fishing, hunting and other jobs.

In Ventura County, the census — the nation’s largest peacetime project — won’t begin until mid-March. But the U.S. Census Bureau needs your help now as we spread the word about the importance of an accurate count, the privacy and confidentiality of the data gathered and the need for residents to apply for the hundreds of census taker jobs that will be available in Ventura County.

The federal government uses census data to allocate more than $675 billion annually for health care, education and other community services. The list of affected programs is long and includes Medicaid, Medicare, Section 8 housing, transportation, special education, school lunches and more.

The number of U.S. House seats each state gets also is based on census data, as well as redistricting for state offices and the creation of local voting districts as more and more city councils and school districts in California move away from the general-election method.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial census, and the 14th Amendment demands that it count “the whole number of persons in each State.” Over the decades, that has included slaves, children too young to vote and undocumented immigrants. If you’re living in Ventura County, chances are you’re driving on Highway 101, going to the doctor, using the parks or attending school, and the community needs funding for the impacts you create.

The 2020 Census questionnaire asks a few simple questions about everyone living in your household and will be easier than ever to complete — you can do it online, by phone or in written form, all beginning in mid-March. It will not ask about immigration status, and under Title 13 of the federal code, the Census Bureau cannot share your answers with any other agency — not Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not city government, not even a local housing authority.

Yet concerns about an undercount in Ventura County are real. The Census Bureau has identified more than 50 “hard-to-count” tracts throughout the county, along with hard-to-count demographic groups like children under 5 and minorities. The bureau is working with the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Complete Count Committee to enlist “trusted voices” here — schools, churches, nonprofits, businesses and others — to urge everyone to complete the census.

For a complete count, we also need census takers to knock on the doors of those who don’t respond to our mailers. These positions offer flexible, part-time work paying $21 an hour. You can help your community, join a once-in-a-decade effort and earn some money by applying online at 2020census.gov/jobs.

Ken Maryanski is a longtime Ventura resident and journalist now working as a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau. He can be reached at kenneth.d.maryanski@2020census.gov.