2020 Census

Yes, the census should be tracking race and ethnicity


(Gerald Martineau/for The Washington Post)
January 23

Timothy P. Johnson is director of the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago and president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Roger Tourangeau is former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and vice president and senior statistical fellow at Westat.

As the federal government prepares to conduct the 2020 Census, critics of the Census Bureau are pushing to make fundamental changes to how it collects its data. This month, Ward Connerly and Mike Gonzalez argued in The Post that the agency should remove questions in the census used to monitor race and ethnicity in our country.

This is a bad idea — based on incorrect information — that would do more harm than good to our country.

First, the Census Bureau’s race and ethnic classifications do not overlook the growing mixed-race population in the United States, as Connerly and Gonzalez suggested. In fact, the government specifically redesigned the 2000 decennial to let Americans more easily self-identify with multiple racial and ethnic groups. This information can be found in any of the countless statistical reports routinely issued by the Census Bureau describing the ever-changing population of our nation.

Questions regarding racial and ethnic self-identification have been included in each U.S. census dating back to the first in 1790. The specific wording of those questions and the level of specificity requested have, of course, been revised significantly over 220 years, reflecting our evolving understanding and respect for the cultural diversity of our nation.

Regardless, racial and ethnic self-identification is an essential component of the identities of millions of Americans. It is a valuable proxy indicator of their life experiences, and researchers have found that race and ethnicity are consistently associated with numerous measures of social well-being.

This information is also routinely used to expose politically motivated attempts to gerrymander congressional districts. This month’s court order to redraw North Carolina districts, which appear to have been designed in part to limit the representation of minority groups, is the most recent example illustrating the importance of objective, nonpartisan statistical information to ensure equal protection of the rights of all Americans. Removing this information from the decennial census would make it easier for us to ignore the social discrimination, health and economic disparities that persist in our nation.

Of course, social researchers recognize the imperfect measurement of race, ethnicity and most of the other social constructs that we study. There are many legitimate criticisms of the existing measures, and ongoing efforts in government, academia and private enterprise continue to develop more rigorous and useful measures. The Census Bureau has historically served as a leader in these efforts, typically making changes to census questions only after lengthy periods of careful research, experimentation and public comment. Questions regarding racial and ethnic self-identification will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the future. Those changes will hopefully be made in the name of public service and based on nonpartisan research.

The 2020 Census is already under considerable stress due to the cancellation of large-scale pretests and other essential development work. This is no time to impose untested changes to the census questionnaire. If we want to reconsider removing or adding questions, let’s do it when we have ample time to determine how doing so might best serve the public good.

Credit: The Washington Post

Citizenship Question on Census?

The DOJ Wants A Citizenship Question On The Census. That Could Blow Up The Whole Survey

Experts already concerned about census response rates say the query would cause even fewer people to respond.

The Department of Justice’s recent request to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has sparked concerns that such a move would lower response rates within immigrant communities.

An inaccurate Census would have severe consequences. The survey helps determine the allocation of nearly $700 billion each year in federal money, the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. House and how other electoral districts are drawn.

Even before ProPublica reported the Department of Justice request to the Census Bureau for the citizenship question, officials already faced significant challenges in getting people to respond. Among those is convincing people that the Census Bureau, which is overseen by the Commerce Department, won’t share data on individuals with other government agencies, said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

“What has happened in the past year or so, given the political environment, is that immigrants have become much more fearful” of contact with the federal government,” Vargas told HuffPost. “These are not just undocumented immigrants. They’re legal permanent residents, they’re U.S. citizens who have family members who are immigrants.”

Vargas, who also is a member of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations, said part of this fear arises from the policies and “new tone” of the Trump administration toward immigrants.

“So adding the citizenship question to [the census] is going to exponentially increase that hurdle to convince everybody that nothing’s going to happen to you if you answer this survey,” he said.

The Justice Department, in its Dec. 12 letter to the Census Bureau, said it needs data on non-citizens to better enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision prohibits the drawing of electoral maps in such a way to dilute the influence of minority votes. DOJ said the data on non-citizens would ensure districts are drawn in a way that fairly represents minority citizens.

Voting rights lawyers question that rationale, noting that the Census Bureau already asks people if they are citizens through the American Community Survey (ACS), which every year goes out to about 3 million households and extrapolates information about the U.S. population. The Justice Department said in its letter the ACS data was insufficient for voting rights enforcement and that the citizenship question should be included on the formal census, something that has not been done since 1950.

John Yang, the president and executive director of Asians Americans Advancing Justice, told HuffPost that asking about citizenship on the census would hinder the government from collecting accurate data.

“Putting it in the minds of the immigrant, they will have a certain paranoia,” he said. “Even if they are a citizen themselves, they will say, ‘Well, does this mean that they are asking me about my relatives that are here? How will this information be used against me.’ Just by its nature, because this is something that goes to the core of someone’s presence in the United States, they are going to be fearful.”

He added that among immigrants who are not English proficient, the citizenship question would “raise in them a whole host of questions of ‘I don’t want to lie, I don’t want to misstate anything, so it’s easiest just not to answer.’”

John Thompson, the former Census Bureau director who resigned in May, said he would not advise adding a question about citizenship because census officials hadn’t had a chance to measure how it would affect the response rate.

“From a census point of view … you don’t do things until you understand the effect,” he told HuffPost. Census officials don’t understand the effect (of adding the citizenship question. Without being able to measure it and trying to understand how this would affect the census and the census environment, for me, it would be hard to make that recommendation.”

Some lawmakers have previously tried to pass legislation requiring a citizenship question on the census. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) last year unsuccessfully sought to withhold funding for the Census Bureau unless it added such a question.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in December he wants the census to count citizens separately from non-citizens and then use only the count of citizens to determine the apportionment of congressional seats. The U.S. Constitution requires congressional seats to be apportioned based on a count of all “persons,” not just citizens.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, who worked as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee from 1987-1994, said that adding a question about citizenship would produce inaccuracies that would have far-ranging consequences.

Asking about citizenship “will depress response rates and just lead to a completely inaccurate census in many areas,” she said. “Those same data must be used for redistricting, as well as the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars a year for federal funds for vital services, as well as state funds for community purposes.”

Census researchers conducting tests in preparation for 2020 already have been raising concerns about the impact of harsh immigration rhetoric on response rates. In a September memo, the researchers said field representatives and supervisors were seeing an unprecedented amount of concern about the confidentiality of census data, particularly among immigrants. The officials observed test respondents “falsifying names, dates of birth, and other information on household rosters.” In focus groups conducted in several languages to test messages for the census, respondents expressed concern about opening their door for a census-taker out of fear they could be deported.

“Spanish-speakers brought up immigration raids, fear of government, and fear of deportation. Respondents talked about having received advice not to open the door if they fear a visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement” agents, the memo said.

The researchers called the responses “eye-opening” because many of the respondents had participated in previous census-related testing and not expressed similar nervousness or hesitation about sharing information.

Census Trouble Looming!

Photo

Census data dictate the distribution of over $600 billion in yearly grants and subsidies to state and local governments. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Census experts and public officials are expressing growing concerns that the bedrock mission of the 2020 census — an accurate and trustworthy head count of everyone in the United States — is imperiled, with worrisome implications.

Preparations for the count already are complicated by a sea change in the census itself: For the first time, it will be conducted largely online instead of by mail.

But as the Census Bureau ramps up its spending and work force for the 2020 count, it is saddled with problems. Its two top administrative posts are filled by placeholders. Years of underfunding by Congress and cost overruns on the digital transition have forced the agency to pare back its preparations, including abandoning two of the three trial runs of the overhauled census process.

Civil liberties advocates also fear that the Trump administration is injecting political considerations into the bureau, a rigidly nonpartisan agency whose population count will be the basis for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts in the early 2020s. And there is broad agreement that the administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration policies will make it even harder to reach minorities, undocumented immigrants and others whose numbers have long been undercounted.

Taken together, some experts say, those issues substantially raise the risk that the 2020 count could be flawed, disputed, or both.

“There’s a set of unprecedented challenges that collectively threaten to create a perfect storm in 2020,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant and a leading authority on the census, said in an interview. “If public confidence in the objectivity and quality of the 2020 census erodes, then another pillar of our representative democracy could be compromised.”

John H. Thompson, who led the Census Bureau from 2013 until June, said the agency appeared on track to conduct its crucial and only “end-to-end” dry run of the count in Providence, R.I., in April. “The career staff at the Census Bureau are really, really good and really committed to an accurate count,” he said. “They will do the best job they can for the money and public cooperation they get.”

Still, he added, “There’s an issue with funding, and there’s an issue with operational readiness. And there’s an issue with accuracy.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a onetime census-taker himself, said in a statement on Saturday that he was “keenly aware” of the challenges facing the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, and that he had put in place new management to address some of the 2020 issues. The top acting officials at the bureau are career employees with decades of experience; with those changes and more money, he said, “I am confident in our ability to conduct a full, fair and accurate 2020 census.”

A department spokesman, James Rockas, noted that Mr. Ross was seeking nearly $750 million for advertising and outreach programs to persuade members of hard-to-reach groups to participate. The Obama administration had “severely underestimated” both the cost and technical challenges of moving to a digital census, he said. Outside experts disputed that charge, noting that Congress had ordered the Census Bureau to spend no more than $13 billion on the 2020 census, and then cut even more from Obama administration budget requests that sought to meet that mandate.

Consternation about pulling off an accurate count has been part of the run-up to past censuses, especially regarding funding challenges. During the last census, worries ranged from undercounting military personnel and their families on bases to fairly accounting for large inmate populations in rural Republican districts.

A bungled count could have profound consequences. Data from the census — which aims to count everyone, whether citizens or not — dictate the distribution of more than $600 billion yearly in grants and subsidies to state and local governments. Demographic data from the count are the bases for surveys that are benchmarks for major businesses, governments and researchers.

The census results also will determine which states will gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives and how those lines are drawn when redistricting begins in 2021. Serious undercounts would invite lawsuits that could hogtie that process, some experts said, and sap public trust in one of the government’s core functions.

The census is the gold standard of data collection not just in the United States but in the world, said Phil Sparks, a director of the Census Project, a network of organizations promoting an accurate head count in 2020. “The last thing we want to do in this current debate,” he said, “is to make this a base metal.”

The bureau has been working on the 2020 count since the 2010 census was completed. The complete overhaul now underway seeks to shrink the count’s costliest and toughest task: sending hundreds of thousands of enumerators to find and interview the millions of people who fail to fill out their census forms.

An online head count, the reasoning goes, should reach more households more efficiently than mailed forms. The enumerators who track down those who do not respond (in 2010, almost 3 in 10 households) will use smartphone apps that instantly send data to the bureau’s computers and track the canvassers’ progress.

The bureau also hopes to mine federal databases and even satellite images for information that could reduce wasted trips by enumerators — to vacant buildings, for example — and automatically fill in personal data like addresses and ages.

The goal is to rein in the ballooning cost of censuses, from $1.22 per person counted in 1970 to more than $42 in 2010. Paradoxically, however, Congress’s demand to keep the 2020 census within the $13 billion cost of the 2010 tally backfired, as the underfunded shift to a digital census only led to later cost overruns, including $300 million for a key initiative to centralize data processing.

Compounding that, Congress has regularly given the agency less money than it said was needed — $200 million less through fiscal 2017 — forcing officials to slow or eliminate programs.

It also has canceled dry runs of the completed census process in Washington State and West Virginia that would have documented its performance in rural areas with spotty internet service and Indian reservations that do not use standard addresses. It has abandoned plans for smartphone canvasses in group living quarters like college dorms and prisons, and scaled back its culling of information from federal databases.

The Commerce Department has raised the count’s projected cost to $15.6 billion, including a $1.2 billion emergency fund — still less, it said, than the $17 billion a mail-in census would have cost. Secretary Ross asked Congress in October for an extra $3.3 billion to fund that new budget. But while outsiders applauded his commitment to the census, they were uncertain that the White House shared it.

To some experts, the situation recalls the 2010 census, in which the bureau sought to equip its enumerators with digital devices, fell behind schedule and had to spend $3 billion on a last-minute switch to pencil-and-paper forms.

“We basically have a simple choice,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who has proposed legislation adding about $440 million to the bureau’s fiscal 2018 budget. “Properly fund the census now, or ask the taxpayers to pay a lot more down the road to make up for poor planning.”

But at least as worrisome as funding is concern over the Trump administration’s impact on the 2020 count.

For different reasons, both civil liberties advocates and census experts say they are troubled by the White House’s purported interest in Thomas Brunell, a political-science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, for the bureau’s vacant post of deputy director. Mr. Brunell, a scholar of redistricting, has been an expert witness for Republican defendants in several gerrymandering cases. He also has criticized the policy of statistically adjusting census results to account for minorities and others who are undercounted.

Neither Mr. Brunell nor the Trump administration has addressed that interest, first reported in Politico. Former officials of the bureau said in interviews that Mr. Brunell lacked managerial experience for a position long held by experienced executives. Civil rights advocates said they worried that his appointment would signal partisan meddling in a census whose usefulness in drawing legislative districts depends entirely on its credibility.

The deputy director runs the bureau’s daily operations and is a key voice in census decisions. Liberals fear a partisan leader would scale back efforts to reach minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups that already are undercounted. Others said low-income and older rural residents who are reliably Republican also are undercounted, and that the issue was not so much partisanship as accuracy and credibility.

“The politicization of the census would erode what is already fragile trust and confidence in the integrity of the count,” said Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has worked for years on census issues.

The Trump administration’s heated rhetoric on immigration, race and the trustworthiness of government is fueling fears that minorities, legal and undocumented immigrants and others — from asylum-seekers to victims of the opioid crisis — will be even harder to locate and count. The 2010 census actually overcounted non-Hispanic whites by 0.8 percent and undercounted African-Americans by 2.1 percent and Hispanics by 1.5 percent.

Suggestions by Mr. Trump and others that the census include a question about citizenship or immigration status are especially worrying to many. More than 11 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States in 2016, eight million of them in the civilian work force. The administration’s hard line on immigration already is having a chilling effect on Hispanic leaders whose support is crucial to an accurate count, said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the Naleo Education Fund, which promotes Latino involvement in civic life.

“Our membership includes elected officials and other people who have indicated they’re not convinced that they can stand up with confidence and tell their constituents that filling out the census form is safe and confidential,” said Mr. Vargas, who sits on a census advisory committee on issues that affect minorities and other hard-to-count groups. “There’s just a great lack of confidence now.”

A marked undercount, especially one that appeared driven by partisanship, could spark an unsettling battle between the census’s political winners and losers. There is precedent: Article 1 of the Constitution requires a decennial census for reapportionment purposes. But after Republicans took control of Congress and the White House in 1920, the House of Representatives refused to allow reapportionment of House seats, fearing that the rapid urbanization the census had documented would shift political power from rural areas to cities.

A similar refusal to accept the 2020 census’s results “by definition would be a constitutional crisis,” Ms. Lowenthal said. And any loss in faith in the count — whether due to politics, money or poor planning — would do lasting damage, she and others said.

“The record of the census in counting people from all income groups, all racial and ethnic groups, is really extraordinary,” said Steve H. Murdock, a Rice University sociologist who led the Census Bureau under President George W. Bush. “Once you break that belief in the activity, it’s hard to replace.”

OMB Decision on Race Delayed

Trump Administration Delays Decision On Race, Ethnicity Data For Census

The 2010 census form included separate questions about race and Hispanic origin. The White House has yet to announce its decision on a proposal that would allow race and ethnicity to be asked in a single, combined question on the 2020 census.

A major decision on the way the U.S. government collects information about race and ethnicity through the census and other surveys was expected to be announced this week by the Trump administration.

But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which sets standards for this type of data for all federal agencies, was silent on Friday, which OMB had said was the deadline for an announcement.

A spokesperson for OMB could not provide any information about the delay.

Under consideration by the White House are proposals introduced during the Obama administration that would fundamentally change how the government counts the Latino population. Another proposal would create a new checkbox on census forms and other federal surveys for people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa. If approved, the policy changes could have significant implications on the upcoming 2020 census, as well as legislative redistricting, civil rights laws and health statistics.

“[The delay] tells me the new administration has taken an interest in the possible changes … and wants to way weigh in,” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House oversight subcommittee for the census who now consults on census issues.

First issued as a White House Office of Management and Budget directive in 1977, the federal standards on race and ethnicity data largely have stayed the same for the past two decades. The last major revisions were announced in 1997, when the Clinton administration decided to allow recipients of the census and other federal surveys to check boxes for more than one race.

Sally Katzen, who oversaw the 1997 revisions as the administrator of the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, says decisions by federal agencies often take more time than anticipated.

“There is no date certain for decision-making,” Katzen says. “The objective in each instance is to arrive at the right decision, not at any old decision.”

An announcement by early spring would help the Census Bureau prepare its report to Congress on the final wording of the 2020 census questions. That report is due by the end of March 2018.

But the timing of the Trump administration’s announcement is ultimately in the hands of the White House, which has been reviewing research by the Census Bureau on the changes’ potential impact, as well as public comments, and recommendations from an advisory group of experts from various federal agencies.

Some census watchers are concerned that delays could impact preparations for the 2020 census already underway.

“The later the decision is released, the more uncertainty continues as far as how the census is going to proceed with its format for collection of race and ethnicity data for 2020,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which supports the proposals to change the standards. “Given all the moving pieces and all the uncertainty about funding and leadership [at the Census Bureau], it doesn’t help when there’s uncertainty with this major part of data collection.”

The Census Bureau has not responded to a request for comment on the impact of the delay on the 2020 census.

To prepare for the upcoming census, researchers at the bureau started studying how to improve collecting race and ethnicity information in 2010. One of the main goals has been to address confusion among many Latino census recipients, who left the race question blank or selected “some other race” — the third-largest racial group reported in 2000 and 2010.

The researchers’ findings suggest the proposals could improve the accuracy of the 2020 count by combining the two census questions about race and Hispanic origin required by the current federal standards into one combined question, with “Hispanic or Latino” as an option for both race and ethnicity. This change, however, would likely shrink the white count on the upcoming census.

“If OMB has decided not to proceed with the major revisions that the career staff has developed in concert with the Census Bureau over the course of the decade, I think that really pulls the rug out from under a great deal of painstaking scientific research that has also cost taxpayers a lot of money since 2010,” says Lowenthal, a consultant to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, which supports the proposals.

A report released by the federal advisory group earlier this year pointed to concerns about how the changes could impact state governments, schools and hospitals that may or may not follow the federal standards for their own record keeping.

“Inconsistency between self-reported [federal] survey information and reporting on administrative records results in discrepancies between major sources of information for the [nation], which could be made worse by changing the standards,” wrote the advisers of the Federal Interagency Working Group for Research on Race and Ethnicity.

The White House could decide to reject the proposals and keep the status quo — or propose different changes to the standards for race and ethnicity data. But Cary Coglianese, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who directs the Penn Program on Regulation, says any decision would be limited by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“To the extent that an administration were to show racial animus and to make decisions about the statistical classification or the questions on surveys that relate to race in a manner that was motivated by racial animus, that would be clearly illegal and unconstitutional,” Coglianese says.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

2020 Census Problems

Accurate 2020 Census count facing obstacles

/ 01:20 AM October 19, 2017

CENSUS.GOV

LOS ANGELES — Participation in the 2020 Census will play a critical role in guiding the distribution of billions of dollars in annual federal spendingome community leaders are acting now to encourage as many people as possible to take part, because budget limits and modernization efforts may create problems for respondents as well as information collectors in 2020.

“I am, personally, worried that there’s not going to be enough dollars for the partnership, multilingual media and outreach that needs to be done for our hard-to-count communities,” California Census Coordinator and chair for the committee advising the Census Bureau on race and ethnicity, Ditas Kitague, told the INQUIRER.net following a panel discussion in Los Angeles hosted by New America Media on Friday, October 6.

Privacy worries

Aside from language barriers, Kitague shared anecdotal reports of growing privacy concerns fueling apprehensions about census participation. Ironically, she noted that some people freely divulge more about themselves via social media than they would on a census form.

In light of the executive branch’s hardline stance on immigration, immigrant communities may be especially hesitant to hand personal information over to the government, according to Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA),

“A number of immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, really are afraid of government, so to have them fill out census information is not easy,” said Kwoh during a phone call with the INQUIRER on Thursday, October 12. “I think r community leaders and legal experts need to provide confidence and vital information.”

Data can’t be used vs. respondents

Kwoh and Kitague pointed out that federal law prohibits private data collected by the Census Bureau from being published or used in legal proceedings against respondents. Kwoh added that groups like AAAJ-LA would be prepared to challenge any unfair use of census information against immigrant communities.

Census-based data derived from people’s responses will be used to direct several hundred billion dollars in federal spending.

“It affects the schools, hospitals, the road repairs that you get,” said Kitague. “These are real impacts on your community.”

The George Washington Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP) reports that in 2015, the distribution of nearly $312 billion to Medicaid and over $64 billion to Medicare relied on census-derived data.

Decisions based on census information also guided the allocation and use of almost $13 billion in Title I education grants, $11 billion in special education programs and $8 billion in funding for Head Start programs for children under 5.

Key in redistricting

Census data are also essential to the redistricting process, which decides how many congressional seats each state gets.

An accurate snapshot of the American population may be especially valuable in the face of shifting national demographics.

The Pew Research Center (PRC) reports that the Asian American and Pacific Islander population grew by 72% between 2000 and 2015, exhibiting the highest growth rate among major ethnic groups in the country.

Meanwhile, Latino communities have been growing steadily for several decades and are projected to make up 24% of the U.S. population by 2065.


In addition, the PRC predicts that the working-age population in the United States would shrink without future immigration.


Far-reaching ramifications

If those changes remain consistent in 2020 Census data, it could have far reaching ramifications for immigrant communities, according to Kitague and others conducting outreach for census participation.

“If we do get an accurate count, it will probably show that the AAPI community is growing,” said Kitague.  “Not getting the AAPI community to respond accurately [means] we can lose political representation.”

People working to promote an accurate census are cautiously optimistic that they will be able to overcome a number of obstacles. However, the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) is confronted by cost constraints, uncertainties surrounding untested tools and a leadership vacuum at the top of the organization as it prepares for 2020.


Cost worries

On Thursday, October 12, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly told members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the Census would cost $15 billion, 25 percent more than what had been initially predicted by the USCB. He asked Congress for an additional $3.3 billion in “urgently needed” funding.

Budget restrictions have already delayed testing for paperless collection methods and other updates intended to save the Bureau money and reach more people.

Meanwhile, in California, preparations for census support operations are lagging behind a state recommended timeline, according to the Manager of Political Voice for the advocacy group Advancement Project California (APCA), Dr. John Dobard. However, he said that outreach efforts are in better shape now than they had been leading up to the 2000 and 2010 census.

“Compared to what’s been done in the past, the state is early. But, based on the recommended timeline from the California Complete Count Committee in 2010, the state is behind,” said Dobard on Friday, October 6. “We’re not where we ideally should be, but there is still time to do things right.”

Census Problems

California would be the primary victim in a GOP war on the census

The 2020 census is headed for a debacle, and California is among the states most likely to be victimized by it.

Every 10 years, the Constitution requires the federal government to “enumerate” the nation’s residents. The count — traditionally accomplished by mailed questionnaires and house visits — determines political apportionment and the allocation of federal funds for the next decade.

The problems faced by the 2020 census begin with its unrealistically low budget. At mostly Republican insistence, it is set at the same level as the 2010 census budget, so it doesn’t account for a decade’s worth of inflation, or for population growth — and there will be an estimated 25 million more people in the U.S. by 2020. On top of that, the Census Bureau is using new technology to reduce door-to-door counting, and thanks to the bureau’s meager funding, it is far behind on testing it.

The 2020 census’ predicament is dire enough that in February, the Government Accountability Office added the census to its “high-risk list” of vulnerable agencies and programs. Then in June, the Census Bureau’s director abruptly resigned without explanation. Strong leadership in the buildup to a census is vital, but the Trump administration still has not named a successor.

Source: LA Times

Census Director Quits

Census Director John H. Thompson Abruptly Quits People-Counting Agency

Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson was expected to leave the agency at the end of the year but instead will depart June 30, according to a government statement. Thompson said he is pursuing “opportunities in the private sector.””Your experience will be greatly missed,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the same statement.

Image: Census Director John Thompson
Census Director John Thompson poses for a portrait in this undated handout image. U.S. Census

Thompson testified to a House committee last week that the 2020 Census was on track. Members of the panel expressed concern about the escalating costs and overruns of the decennial accounting exercise mandated by the Constitution. The 2010 Census was the costliest U.S. Census in history, at about $12.3 billion, Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director for the Government Accountability Office. Thompson, who was confirmed to his post in 2013, told the same panel that the cost of the 2020 Census will cost about $12.5 billion.

Some of the increased projection is the result of modernizing the counting process, Goldenkoff said.

Asked whether Secretary Wilbur Ross or Trump himself had asked Thompson to step down, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said by email: “He’s simply retiring from public service. He spent 30 years in public service and 10 in the private sector.”

The Census, conducted every 10 years since 1790, is critical to determining how to run the country as it grows and diversifies. Beyond government spending, the private sector also uses demographic information collected in the enumeration.

The U.S. recently surpassed 325 million people. By 2044, whites are expected to become a minority. In 2020, the questionnaire is expected to include a new classification for Americans who are of Middle Eastern descent.

The director is nominated by the president for a five-year term and confirmed by the Senate.

The Canadian Census

The Canadian Census

Canadian Census

The categories in the drop down menu include:

White
Chinese
South Asian
Black Filipino
Latin American
Southeast Asian
Arab
West Asian
Japanese
Korean
Other

Ask the Census Bureau

At their request, I have a conference call with Census Bureau folks on Friday. Email me if you have any questions you would like me to ask them. Thanks. -Susan Graham  susangraham@projectrace.com

No Do-Overs on 2020 Census

‘There are no Do-Overs’ – Advocates Sound Alarm on 2020 Census

 ‘There are no Do-Overs’ - Advocates Sound Alarm on 2020 Census

“Congress’ failure over the past few years to pay for rigorous 2020 Census planning, and now the Trump Administration’s insufficient budget request for 2018, will strike at the heart of operations specifically designed to make the census better in historically undercounted communities,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, former staff director with the House Subcommittee on Census and Population.

She spoke during a national press call hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The call was moderated by Wade Henderson, president and CEO of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“The decennial census is by far the most importance and critical tool in our country to ensure that diverse communities are equitably served with government resources and that the American people are adequately represented at all levels of government,” said Henderson. “The census is required by the U.S. Constitution and policymakers are responsible for making sure the job gets done right. All of us must insist that they do that because there are no do-overs.”

Currently the Census Bureau is being funded at 2016 levels, as Congress has not approved final spending bills for 2017. The bureau has requested a 25 percent “ramp up” for preparation activities. But President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal recommends keeping funding levels where they are currently, $1.5 billion.

Census advocates say this is a crucial time for laying the groundwork and are calling for Congress to reject the administration’s budget proposal in favor of one that covers all preparation activities.

A ‘major civil rights issue’

Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability office deemed the 2020 Census a “high risk federal program,” in part because the U.S. Census Bureau is planning to utilize several never-before used strategies – such as collecting responses over the internet – but may not have the time and resources to adequately develop and test them.

Budget limitations have already hindered major preparations, including the cancellation of tests of new methods in Puerto Rico and on two American Indian reservations, and resulted in mailed tests rather than electronic or in-person ones, as well as delayed community outreach and advertising campaigns.

Advocates say current funding shortfalls will result in many people – particularly black, Latino and rural households, and families with young children – being missed by the count. Arturo Vargas is the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. He calls the underfunding of the census a major civil rights issue for Latinos and other communities of color.

“A successful 2020 Census is not possible if Latinos are not accurately counted,” Vargas said.

Millions of Latinos, the second largest ethnic group in the U.S., were missed in the 2010 census, including 400,000 children under four, according to Vargas.

For each uncounted person, state governments and communities lose thousands of federal aid dollars, which go to anti-poverty programs, education, infrastructure, emergency services, healthcare and other programs.

An undercount can also trigger changes in political representation – from redrawn district lines, to fewer seats in local, state and federal offices, often diminishing the power of communities of color.

Advocates say that new cost-saving strategies like collecting responses over the internet rather than paper forms require investments on the front end. Delayed preparations cannot be made up later. Surveys administered online may also be hampered by the “digital divide” if adequate field tests are not taken.

Lack of access to broadband and the internet may make it “more challenging to [reach] those historically left out of the census in the first place,” Vargas warns.

The ‘first high tech census’

The first “high tech” census also opens the door to cyber security concerns, which have been exacerbated of late by evidence of foreign attacks on the 2016 presidential elections. Such concerns could make Americans even more hesitant to participate.

Lowenthal says she and other advocates must be prepared for a “wild card” event, such as President Trump publically questioning the importance of the census via social media.

“One errant tweet could shake public confidence and in the process depress participation and undermine faith in the results, conceivably all the way to the halls of Congress,” Lowenthal said.

Census advocates are eyeing several other threats to the decennial count and its yearly counterpart, the American Community Survey. The ACS is sent yearly to about 1 in 38 households to collect demographic data on everything from employment and home-ownership to educational attainment.

Republications in Congress are pushing to make participation in the ACS voluntary which could severely damage the data, says John C. Yang, president and executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

“The ACS updates the Census throughout the decade. As such it is required by law and must remain so to provide the vital info needed from our communities,” Yang said, emphasizing that the ACS is the only source for detailed data of ethnic subgroups, such as Vietnamese of Chinese descent.

Census advocates are also on high alert because an unsigned leaked executive order, titled “Protecting American Workers from Immigrant Labor,” referenced a directive to the Census Bureau to collect data on immigration status.

Advocates are alarmed by the intentions behind this unsigned order.

“Latinos and other immigrant families are keenly aware of heightened immigrant enforcement actions in their communities, and this may increase distrust in contact with public agencies including the Census Bureau,” Vargas said.

Meet our Presidents


Makensie McDaniel