By Honora Montano
And Floyd Alvin Galloway
With the 2020 Census three years out, civil rights groups and census experts are sounding the alarm that pending actions by the Trump administration and Congress could severely hamper an accurate count of all communities.
“Congress’ failure over the past few years to pay for rigorous 2020 Census planning, and now the Trump Admin-istration’s insufficient budget request for 2018, will strike at the heart of operations specifically designed to make the census better in historically undercounted communities,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, former staff director with the House Subcommittee on Census and Population.
She spoke during a national press call hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The call was moderated by Wade Henderson, president and CEO of Leadership Confer-ence on Civil and Human Rights.
“The decennial census is by far the most important and critical tool in our country to ensure that diverse communities are equitably served with government resources and that the American people are adequately represented at all levels of government,” said Henderson. “The census is required by the U.S. Constitution and policymakers are responsible for making sure the job gets done right. All of us must insist that they do that because there are no do-overs.”
“Communities of color, urban and rural low-income households, immigrants, and young children are all at risk of being missed at disproportionately high rates. The health and wellbeing, as well as the political power of all of the diverse communities The Leadership Conference represents, rests on a fair and accurate count.” said Henderson.
Currently the Census Bureau is being funded at 2016 levels, as Congress has not approved final spending bills for 2017. The bureau has requested a 25 percent “ramp up” for preparation activities. But President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal recommends keeping funding levels where they are currently, $1.5 billion.
Census advocates say this is a crucial time for laying the groundwork and are calling for Congress to reject the administration’s budget proposal in favor of one that covers all preparation activities. Will Trump Administration, Congress Hamper Accurate, Equitable 2020 Census?
The U.S. Government Accountability office recently deemed the 2020 Census a “high risk federal program,” in part because the U.S. Census Bureau is planning to utilize several never-before used strategies – such as collecting responses over the Internet – but may not have the time and resources to adequately develop and test them.
Budget limitations have already hindered major preparations, including the cancellation of tests of new methods in Puerto Rico and on two American Indian reservations, and resulted in mailed tests rather than electronic or in-person ones, as well as delayed community outreach and advertising campaigns.
Advocates say current funding shortfalls will result in many people – particularly black, Latino and rural households, and families with young children – being missed by the count.
Black immigrants are one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States. Nonetheless, this group remains a novelty in the broader immigration discourse.
Like African-Americans, Black immigrants experience disparate, often negative, outcomes within various social and economic structures in the United States, including the country’s mass criminalization and immigration enforcement regimes. This climate will have an adverse effect on a fair full census count.
Communities of color, urban and rural low-income households, immigrants, and young children are all at risk of being missed at disproportionately high rates. The health and wellbeing, as well as the political power of all of the diverse communities The Leadership Conference represents, rests on a fair and accurate count.”
The growing Black immigrant population and Latino population must be included in the census data for it to be accurate.
According to a Black Alliance of Just Immigration report, Black immigrants accounted for only 3.1% of the Black population in the U.S. in 1980, Black immigrants now account for nearly 10% of the nation’s Black population. The Census Bureau projects that by 2060, 16.5% of America’s Black population will be foreign-born.
Second, Black immigrants make up a significant portion of the overall immigrant and non-citizen population in the U.S. According to the 2014 one-year estimates from ACS, the estimated total of foreign-born population in the U.S. was 42 million, within which 8.7% were Black immigrants. In addition, about 22 million of the U.S. foreign-born population were non-citizens, among whom 7.2% were Black.
For each uncounted person, state governments and communities lose thousands of federal aid dollars, which go to anti-poverty programs, education, infrastructure, emergency services, healthcare and other programs.
An undercount can also trigger changes in political representation – from redrawn district lines, to fewer seats in local, state and federal offices, often diminishing the power of communities of color.
Advocates say that new cost-saving strategies like collecting responses over the internet rather than paper forms require investments on the front end. Delayed preparations cannot be made up later. Surveys administered online may also be hampered by the “digital divide” if adequate field tests are not taken.
Lack of access to broadband and the internet may make it “more challenging to [reach] those historically left out of the census in the first place,” Vargas warns.
The first “high tech” census also opens the door to cyber security concerns, which have been exacerbated of late by evidence of foreign attacks on the 2016 presidential elections. Such concerns could make Americans even more hesitant to participate.
Lowenthal says she and other advocates must be prepared for a “wild card” event, such as President Trump publically questioning the importance of the census via social media.
“One errant tweet could shake public confidence and in the process depress participation and undermine faith in the results, conceivably all the way to the halls of Congress,” Lowenthal said.
Census advocates are also on high alert because an unsigned leaked executive order, titled “Protecting American Workers from Immigrant Labor,” referenced a directive to the Census Bureau to collect data on immigration status.