Concerns Raised About 2020 Census

Seal of the Bureau of the Census

The decennial census is crucial, in some way or another, to most of the data that appears on PolicyMap. Besides the demographic data that comes directly from the census, the count provides statistical baselines for data from the Census Bureau’s ACS, unemployment from the BLS, health data from the CDC, and many other sources. With major concerns being raised about the 2020 Census, we asked Phil Sparks at the advocacy organization The Census Project to write a guest post about where the 2020 Census stands. For more updates, you can visit The Census Project and sign up for updates. This post represents the views of The Census Project, and not necessarily those of PolicyMap.

Alarms about poor preparations for the constitutionally-mandated 2020 Census are ringing across the country.

The U.S. Constitution requires a new count of the country’s population every 10 years for purposes of the redistribution of political power through congressional apportionment based on the census numbers.Logo of The Census Project This data, and its companion American Community Survey, also help guide more than $600 billion in federal funds to the states every year for programs like Medicare, roads and highways, Head Start, school lunches, and housing assistance. Businesses support both surveys because the data help identify new business opportunities, find customer bases and identify potential workforces.

The planning and preparation for the next decennial census is behind schedule. Congress over the past several years has consistently underfunded annual funding requests by the Census Bureau for the 2020 Census by several hundred million dollars. Now we have reached the most critical stage in both funding and planning. A so-called ramp-up of activities in the few years left before 2020 will require billions of additional dollars in increased funding to support the new IT-focused counting techniques and to support the anticipated workforce of 500,000 census takers to follow-up door-to -door. Already, critical field tests for the 2020 Census have been cutback or eliminated because of funding shortfalls.

Planning for the 2020 Census is woefully underfunded, coming as the U.S. Census Bureau is planning for an IT-centric enumeration based on internet responses for more than half the population, instead of the traditional pencil-and-paper decennial censuses of the past.

Even now, national policymakers are stalled on the FY 2018 Census Bureau appropriations because of a so-called Continuing Resolution flat-lining 2020 Census funding at last year’s levels, months into the new fiscal year.

The U.S. Census represents the gold standard among national statistical agencies worldwide. But, congressional shortchanges put that sterling reputation at risk.