For many people, the U.S. Census is a minor annoyance. They fill out the form and quickly forget it, while other people don’t bother to fill it out, thinking it's not that important. And that is a significant problem. The average American doesn’t understand why the Census matters and how it affects their daily lives. Worse yet, when the results are inaccurate, it negatively impacts the people who could benefit the most from precise reporting. So, when the media broke the story that the Trump administration interfered with the 2020 Census and minorities were drastically undercounted, it didn't seem to spark the outrage warranted. BCT Partners, a company focused on advancing societal equity, explains why the Census should matter to everyone living in the U.S.
The Importance of the Census
The United States' founding fathers thought population should be the basis for sharing political power, not wealth or land, which was a radical concept at the time. Most of the world put the governing authority into the hands of the wealthy few, who were often landowners. Therefore, the poor had very little ability to determine their fate.
The population and demographic results of the Census inform decisions in three key areas:
1. The number that each state is apportioned of the 435 seats that are available within the U.S. House of Representatives. Seats are based on population counts and are in effect for ten years until the next Census.
2. The adjustment or redrawing of electoral districts based on where populations have increased or decreased.
3. The allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds distributed to states, counties, and communities. That includes money for schools, hospitals, roads, public work projects, and over 100 other Head Start, Medicaid, and Mental Health Services programs. These funds are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race, and other factors.
The 2020 Census
The results of the 2020 Census were released on August 12, 2021. That data is now being used to redraw voting districts for 429 congressional districts in 44 states and 7,383 state legislative districts. The data affected the reapportionment of seats in the house of Representatives. Certain states that skew red gained additional seats, such as Texas, Florida, Montana, North Carolina. Colorado and Oregon also gained one seat. Seven states that skew blue or are swing states will lose one seat each, including California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The problem is that these results were based on data that may not be telling the whole story.
Government efforts to count every person in America ended on October 15, 2020, two weeks earlier than previously planned, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a lower-court order that would have required the Census Bureau to continue field operations through the end of the month. Numerous groups objected because the collected data may not have been acceptably accurate.
In addition, Census officials expressed their own concern about the reporting period ending early and the "high degree of engagement in technical matters (by Trump administration officials), which is unprecedented relative to the previous Censuses." Specifically, two of the things they were concerned about were the administration's direct engagement (and possible manipulation) of the methodology used to process the data and potential violations of user privacy pertaining to the identification of unauthorized immigrants.
Ultimately, the Census officials were right to be concerned as their reports indicate that Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans were undercounted. This could potentially affect political representation and federal funding for minority communities around the country. Estimates suggest that the Latino population was undercounted by 5%, more than three times the undercount estimated for the 2010 census. More than 3 percent of Black people were not included, and Native Americans and Native Alaskans on reservations were undercounted by more than 5 percent. And non-Hispanic white people and Asians were over counted.
What needs to change
The interference by the Trump administration showed how easily data could be manipulated in the wrong hands. Despite the 14th Amendment's requirement to include the "whole number of persons in each state," Trump wanted to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the Census counts used to reallocate each state's share of congressional seats and electoral votes. Fortunately, Trump's efforts did not wholly succeed due to the integrity of senior Census bureau officials and court challenges. Arturo Vargas — a longtime census advocate and CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund — said in a statement that “The efforts of the bureau's career professionals to resist Trump officials' pressure and "protect the integrity of census operations were nothing short of heroic." However, this interference by the Trump administration highlights the importance of safeguarding the ability of the Census Bureau to do its' work without political interference. As a result, the Biden administration's Scientific Integrity Task Force issued a report warning that the bureau and other federal statistical agencies "must protect against interference to create and release data that provide a set of common facts to inform policymakers and researchers, and the public." "To date," the report added, "no individuals have been held accountable for these allegations." Along with government oversight, there is perhaps an even more critical component to ensuring the Census Bureau is independent of political meddling. It’s imperative that every person living within the United States do their part.We need to understand what the Census does, why it matters and use our power to hold public officials accountable.
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