Critics fear 2020 Census will undercount ethnic and racial minorities
Published in Cleveland Plain Dealer on
Ethnic and minority advocates are raising alarms about preparations for the 2020 U.S. Census.
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Ethnic and minority advocates are raising alarms about preparations for the 2020 U.S. Census, saying it is already underfunded and understaffed and that a just-added citizenship question has now made it inappropriately political.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, on Thursday said the $3.8 billion that President Trump has budgeted for the census is $933.5 million short of what is needed to thoroughly and accurately count the nation's 325 million-plus residents.
She and others are convinced that the 2020 Census will undercount low-income, rural, urban, immigrant, and minority populations, leading to inaccurate distribution of about $800 billion in federal funds for schools, hospitals, police departments, and other resources.
Minority groups are criticizing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to ask respondents for their citizenship status, saying it will intimidate unauthorized residents to avoid completing the form. For naturalized citizens, the form will also ask where they were born, when they entered the U.S., and what year they became a citizen.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the nonprofit National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said Ross decided to insert the question at the last minute, against the advice of census experts, former census directors and commerce secretaries. The question isn't on a draft version of the census being test-marketed in Providence County, Rhode Island, for example, so no one knows how residents will react to it.
Although Ross and the Justice Department say the citizenship data is necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the census stopped asking the question on the full census after 1950.
The State of California filed a lawsuit against Ross and the Census Bureau over the question, and on Tuesday, New York and 16 other states - but not Ohio - filed their own lawsuit in an effort to remove the question. New York's lawsuit also includes seven cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Vargas said having a complete and accurate count of the nation's 58 million Hispanic residents is critical, because of estimates that more than 1 million were not counted in the last census. If the Census Bureau doesn't have enough money, staff or time to prepare for the 2020 count, that will make it even more difficult to ensure that everyone is counted, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, says the citizenship question will also reduce response rates among Asian Americans, 90 percent of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants, including those who are undocumented.
"The Census Bureau itself knows, based on its own research, that residents are fearful of responding to government surveys because of the current anti-immigrant environment," he said. "Asking additional questions such as these will stoke further fear in the community that the information could be misused and will only make our task more difficult as civil rights organizations in getting our communities to participate so we can have an accurate count of our population."
Getting the most complete count of ethnic minorities requires more census workers who are linguistically and culturally fluent, as well as credible and trustworthy to those who might not otherwise fill out their census forms.
The Constitution requires that all residents be counted, not just those who are U.S. citizens, Yang said.
Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said the nation's black population has been undercounted and underserved since enslaved peoples were considered three-fifths of their white neighbors.
He said the 2000 and 2010 census data each missed about 1 percent of the black population, contributing to inequities in housing, employment, education and other socioeconomic opportunities.
Yang pointed out that corporations also use census data to determine where to open stores and supermarkets and to be near potential employees.
The Urban League has also objected to "prison gerrymandering" on previous census forms, which counted inmates as residents of their prisons instead of where their homes are, Morial said. He said this disproportionately affects African Americans, who comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population but 33 percent of the prison population.
"If this were any other administration the inclusion of a citizenship status question would likely seem benign," Morial said on the Urban League's website. "However, the Trump administration has repeatedly proposed xenophobic and racist policies - and its handling of the Census appears to be no different. It is intentionally politicizing the decennial Census by using it as a tool to intimidate undocumented immigrants from completing the questionnaire, siphon government resources from communities of color, and undermine the assurance of congressional representation."
"The National Urban League will work with our coalition partners to challenge the inclusion of this question, and we urge members of Congress to overturn this deeply flawed decision," he said.