Counting the Problems with the Census

05 Apr 2018 6:00 AM | Deleted user

In 2020, as required by the constitution, the United States will once again set out to count all the people living within our borders.

The Census is used for a multitude of purposes, including allocation of $600 billion in federal funds and apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The census is critical for funding everything from education to trash collection. It also provides a critical tool to help businesses make sound investment decisions.

An incomplete or poorly done population count has repercussions throughout our government, economy, infrastructure and communities. 

Unfortunately, problems loom.

Recently the Secretary of Commerce made a decision to include a question pertaining to citizenship in the 2020 Census. This decision is bad for the census, bad for our communities and bad for America. Add your name to those who stand against the inclusion of the question. 

The addition of a citizenship question for the first time since 1950 will imperil the chances for an accurate count of our country’s population. This question is designed to frighten immigrants—citizens and noncitizens alike—so they won’t participate in the Census. Adding this question now is not only unnecessary and jeopardizes the accuracy of the report, but it comes at a huge expense in terms of the time and cost of changing the forms. The bottom line is that the Commerce Department’s decision to include the question is costly and wrong and risks the accuracy of the entire project.

Additionally, the Bureau has been without a director since June 2017 and faces an uphill battle in its fight to obtain sufficient funding throughout 2019 and 2020. Although the Census Bureau is actually being more cost-efficient than in previous years, concerns about costs and the transition to electronic data collection continue to threaten the entire project. 

The financial situation led to cancellation of all five system tests that it had anticipated completing in Washington State prior to 2020. In preparation for the last Census in 2010, tests were completed at one field office in each of the state’s 9 Congressional Districts. There is now only a single field test being completed in the entire country.

Communities in rural areas, those made up largely of low-income people, and those with high immigrant populations are also all less likely to have access to the internet and will therefore be more difficult to count under the new electronic system. The remedy for low returns in these areas entails hand re-counting, increased staff time and additional communications costs which would balloon the already too-small budget.

So what can we do?

  1. Sign the petition against including a citizenship question. 
  2. Spread the word. Tell everyone you know, write letters to the editor! It can be challenging to focus on something that won’t happen for another two years, but it is imperative that we speak out now while change is actually possible.
  3. Contact your elected representatives at all levels to ask them if they know about the issues above and to find out what they are doing to help ensure a complete and accurate Census. Elected officials need to hear our voices to know that we care about this topic. Congress has the power to properly fund the Census Bureau and to overturn the decision to include the citizenship question.
  4. Consider joining a correct count committee in your community to help encourage people you interact with to complete their forms. These committees are formed either by local government entities (cities or counties) or community organizations (schools, churches, neighborhoods, etc). You can find more information by contacting League member Alison McCaffree.
  5. connect with organizations serving hard-to-count communities (rural, immigrant, homeless and low-income) and offer to help them in whatever capacity they most need.

Your voice is important and desperately needed. We can make a difference that will be felt for a decade, but we must act now to stand up, be counted, and help others to do the same.

The League of Women Voters of Washington is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization.
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