Census Bureau to curtail counting efforts, jeopardizing accuracy

Not only does Census data help drive federal funding decisions, these same results are used to determine how states divvy up congressional political power.
Image: Census
An envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit, on April 5, 2020.Paul Sancya / AP file
By Steve Benen

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights' Vanita Gupta wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday, raising concerns about the Trump administration sabotaging the 2020 Census "so that it reflects an inaccurate and less diverse portrait of America." She specifically pointed to the possibility of compressing the census timeline "to all but guarantee a massive undercount."

Gupta added, "Rushing census operations, as the administration is attempting to do, ensures the bureau won't count millions of people -- especially those hit hardest by the pandemic. It will leave the country with inaccurate numbers that deprive communities of resources, political power and the federal assistance necessary to recover from the pandemic for the next 10 years."

Right around the time the op-ed was being published online, NPR reported on the latest news from the Census Bureau itself.

The U.S. Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on Sept. 30, a month sooner than previously announced, the bureau's director confirmed Monday in a statement. That includes critical door-knocking efforts and collecting responses online, over the phone and by mail.... These last-minute changes to the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S. threaten the accuracy of population numbers used to determine the distribution of political representation and federal funding for the next decade.

NPR's report added, "With roughly 4 out of 10 households nationwide yet to be counted, and already delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau now has less than two months left to try to reach people of color, immigrants, renters, rural residents and other members of historically undercounted groups who are not likely to fill out a census form on their own."

Politico had a related report late last night, noting that the Census Bureau had indicated earlier this year that it would need more time, not less, "but amid a renewed push by Trump to remove those in the country without documentation from the count, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham now says the data will be sent to the president by the end of the year -- and not next spring, when Joe Biden could be in the Oval Office."

I can appreciate why Census concerns may seem obscure and unimportant, but developments like these have the potential to be enormously consequential. Not only does Census data help drive federal funding decisions, these same results are used to determine how states divvy up congressional power on Capitol Hill.

The more the Trump administration curtails counting of immigrants and communities of color, the more the deck will be stacked against them.

Vanita Gupta's op-ed made the case that Congress has the authority to intervene to prevent the administration from cutting short the count, but given the fact that the Senate is in Republicans' hands, the likelihood of lawmakers stepping up to protect the integrity of the Census is remote.