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Republicans' Budget Cuts Will Distort the 2020 Census

Juhem Navarro-Rivera

The Decennial Census is one of the most important statistical tools available to Americans. It provides a snapshot of our present and helps us plan our future. Today this periodic and constitutionally mandated population count faces major threats on two fronts. The first threat is the underfunding of the program by Congressional Republicans and President Trump. The second is the administration’s attacks on vulnerable populations that are often the hardest to count.

The Republican government’s approach to spending (only for military and police forces) and taxing (cuts for the wealthy) threatens the important function of the census to accurately count every person residing in the United States. The President’s budget shortchanges the ability of the census to successfully conduct the 2020 population count. The next census of population warrants special attention and support because it will be conducted primarily online. As such, it must be funded appropriately to ensure that all required systems are in place.  

These funding issues are likely behind the sudden departure of current Census Bureau director John Thompson, who announced earlier this month he will retire in June. The administration’s approach to underfunding the census is, however, typical of a Republican Party that sees government as a nuisance rather than an obligation to serve the public. As former Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt told Science, his “…real fear is that they [Congress] don’t care enough to do a good job with the 2020 census. And then after doing a bad job, they decide to let the private sector take over.”

In this sense, we must consider the Republican Party’s handling of the census budget as another battle in the war against effective government. Attacking the census undermines many governmental functions. Its data is used to ensure fair representation in Congress, reapportioning seats according to population size. Its information on race is used to enforce civil and voting rights at a time when GOP legislators and governors are making it harder to vote and the Supreme Court has weakened hard-fought voting protections.

Moreover, other actions by this administration will make the census’s job even harder. This administration has made a point of persecuting racial and ethnic minorities, which are often undercounted in the census. Latino/a communities live in fear of a deportation force unleashed with little to no checks. The government continues fighting to implement an illegal ban on Muslims. The Attorney General wants to return to the misguided prosecution and incarceration policies that have destroyed African American communities, while the President dismisses the concerns of American Indian activists at Standing Rock. Only with adequate funding can the Census Bureau improve outreach to these groups in order to count them accurately. 

The census is an important information tool that helps guide the government, business, and civic organizations about the distribution of resources so they can reach people efficiently. It is necessary to ensure its success, because if the census fails, we all pay.