The U.S. Census Bureau will cut short the time for the 2020 Census count by a month, which will leave millions of people uncounted; most of those being low-income, minority, and immigrant households. This cynical move by the Trump administration will short-change states and cities with large minority or immigrant populations for a decade. Ironically, it will also under-count the rural areas where the president draws a lot of his support.
The Census Bureau announced on August 3 that it would close data collection a month earlier on September 30. It means that Census enumerators will stop going door-to-door, but it also means that the Census Bureau will stop taking all submissions, even online.
The census count affects each state’s representation in Congress. It also affects the distribution of over $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. The Constitution requires that every person living in the U.S. be counted in the census every 10 years. This means counting every resident, whether they are a citizen or not.
The census numbers are used to set how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The census results are also used by states and cities to draw congressional district and voting ward boundaries.
So far, around 63% of U.S. residents have replied to the Census. The Census Bureau sends out enumerators, who follow up with people who did not respond to the census. Many of these field workers go door-to-door to make sure the census counts as many people as possible. Door-to-door canvassing was supposed to start on April 1, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress had set December 31 as the date that the final headcount must be ready. These are the population figures that are used to divide representatives between the states, which is called apportionment. Gathering this data must be done far enough ahead of that date so that it can be reviewed and certified by Census officials. The headcount was originally supposed to end in mid-August, but it was extended until October 31 because of the coronavirus delays.
The Census Bureau said that it was accelerating the data collection to meet the statutory deadline for the apportionment counts. They also said that they would be hiring more staff to ensure a complete count in the shorter time frame.
Census outreach targets the groups most likely to be missed and under-counted. This includes low-income, minority, and immigrant households. Rural populations also tend to be under-counted in the best of circumstances. Shortening the time spent reaching out will make the under-count worse. Adding more field staff may help, but it cannot make up for the lost time.
States that have the largest number of low-income, minority and immigrant residents will be hurt the most by cutting the census count short. Most of these states are on the coasts, are more urbanized, and lean Democratic. They will lose representation in Congress and billions of dollars in federal program funding. This not only affects affordable housing programs, but also healthcare, education, nutrition, employment and other programs that help low-income renters.
Within states, legislatures use census data to draw congressional districts, legislative districts, and voting wards. Under-counting low-income and minority residents reduces their representation at the state and local levels too.
This is the latest step in the Trump administration’s efforts to change the census for political gain. The Supreme Court halted Trump’s Executive Order to include a citizenship question on the census. The question has not been included for decades because it depressed the response of immigrants.
Trump has also issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from the final numbers for apportionment. This is likely illegal, since the Constitution requires that all persons residing in the U.S. be counted. This includes undocumented immigrants.
Trump is just taking a longtime Republican strategy to the next level. By suppressing low-income and minority counts, groups that tend to vote Democratic, it gives an advantage to Republican candidates and “Red States.” And this advantage will last for ten years until the next census in 2030.
Make Yourself Count
You have until September 30 to complete the Census questionnaire. If you have not yet responded to the census, you can complete the online census form here. It is pretty easy, and completely confidential by law. If you have already answered the census, but know someone who has not, please encourage them to respond. Your community is depending on it.
The first step in making your voices heard is to stand up and be counted.