Crisis, Resilience, and Civic Engagement: Pandemic-Era Census Completion

Crisis, Resilience, and Civic Engagement: Pandemic-Era Census Completion

By Elaine K. Denny, University of California, Merced

How do economic shocks and financial resilience shape civic engagement, especially for the economically insecure? I turn to the early months of the coronavirus pandemic for insights. In April 2020, with more than 23 million adults unemployed, the US government asked residents to participate in the constitutionally mandated decennial census. I test how variations in income shocks from the shutdown and sources of financial resilience predict disparities in census completion, a civic act designed to minimize participation barriers. First, I use nationally representative survey data to demonstrate that policies that protect the economically vulnerable from the full impacts of economic shocks also predict higher census completion rates. Then, I use Google Trends data to show that high unemployment search volume interacted with low resilience to predict depressed census completion. Findings shed light on how economic crises can widen participation gaps—with representation and resource consequences—and how policies that lessen acute economic shocks may reduce participation disparities.


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