Census 2020 Draws Concern from Public Health Advocates
Political maneuvering around Census stokes fear, distrust among immigrants and creates barriers to health and nutrition resources
The start date for the next decennial Census is approaching, and preparations are generating alarm among those who advocate for children's health and the health of underserved populations. Top concerns are the possible inclusion by the Trump administration of a new Census question about citizenship, as well as the Census Bureau's capacity to accurately conduct a count of children.
The next Census Day is April 1, 2020, and stakes include the distribution of Congressional seats and the disbursement of over $700B to government-funded programs. In Illinois, a declining population could see the state lose up to two seats in the House of Representatives, depending upon the Census results. The government also uses Census data to determine where programmatic funding is allocated, and an accurate count of underserved and at-risk populations is imperative to securing support for the health, nutrition and other services that sustain vulnerable children and families.
A question targeted at citizenship status hasn't been part of a national census in over 60 years, and the legality of the question's inclusion
in 2020 has currently been challenged by lawsuits in New York, California and Maryland. Experts have
testified that the change is politically motivated
, designed to pull Congressional seats away from states with high Latino and immigrant populations. While many feel that an accurate tally of the immigrant population is important, there is concern in the Latinx community that such information would not be kept confidential and might be used against immigrants in some way. The fear, then, is that Latinos would decline to participate in the Census, resulting in an undercount and a reduction in resources and representation for Latinos living in the United States. According to a report from the research group
"Despite it being illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal information collected during Census 2020, the Latino community does not trust that this Administration will refrain from sharing confidential information about citizenship status with agencies like ICE. If the citizenship question is not removed, we run the risk of an historic undercount in Census 2020."
Proposed citizenship question. Source: Pew Research Center
On Tuesday, January 15th, as a result of the lawsuit in New York, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered the Census Bureau to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 survey, ruling that the inclusion violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The Trump Administration filed a Federal Appeal on Thursday, January 17th.
Additionally, overarching concerns are rising around the Census Bureau's preparedness to successfully conduct the 2020 survey. According to NBC News, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised alarm over the logistical readiness of the Census office, which "has cut back on crucial testing in different parts of the country, has had trouble attracting qualified workers and is lagging behind getting its IT and cybersecurity systems fully operational before it adds - for the first time - the ability for people to take the census online." Amidst the current partial government shutdown, recent reports indicate the Census Bureau has ceased all operations unrelated to the 2020
campaign and that, beginning in February, the staff working on Census 2020 could be furloughed. These developments would severely handicap the office's ability to accurately conduct a Census, including capacity to accurately count children, traditionally one of the survey's most significant challenges. According to USA Today, the undercount of
children in the 2010 Census exceeded 1 million, and a repeat undercount is likely due to lack of promotion, the challenge of internet access in underserved communities and the aforementioned fear of immigration and citizenship repercussions.
Laura Speer, head of the national Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, tells NPR, "there are a lot of federal programs that are decided upon based on the census every year. In fact, it's 300 federal programs, about $800 billion. Some of the biggest ones are Medicaid for
children, food stamps, Title I education funding for schools, school lunch programs, Head Start. If we don't get those numbers right, the states and localities who are the recipients of this funding are at risk of not getting the money they need to support the kids that they need to provide."