Why the Underfunded 2020 Census Is a Civil Rights Issue
-level trouble. The decennial census, that once-every-ten-years count of the American population, is drastically underfunded. And what happens if it's underfunded? A lot of people don't get counted, so they don't get what they need in terms of hospitals, schools, roads, emergency services, healthcare, social services-the
The census should not be political, just as redistricting (which depends on census numbers) should not be political. And yet, obviously, it is-a party might very well want to starve the census of money to deliberately produce an undercount of certain populations, like minorities, immigrants, or low-income people.
Robert Shapiro, who oversaw the 2000 census when he was under secretary of commerce for economic affairs, said, "There is a concerted assault being waged on the accuracy of the
So what can we do? I spoke to couple of census experts for a citizen's guide to getting the census on track.
Call your reps
Obligatory. You probably already knew this, but: contact your reps right now and urge them to ensure that the funding allocated for the 2020 census is sufficient.
Contact civil rights' and immigrant rights' groups
The underfunded census means that outreach and advertising efforts-which needed to get started earlier this year-are stalled. Without a major push to educate people about the census and alert them that it's coming down the pike, "hard to count" communities-minorities, immigrants, low-income people, and people living in what's called "low visibility" or non-traditional housing-get missed.
Shapiro said, "The best way to push back [is to] contact the major civil rights and minority-rights organizations, and say 'you have got to put pressure on members of Congress to provide sufficient funding.' I've overseen the decennial census, and I know how the right pressure can move members of Congress."
You can and should write your congressperson, but it's more effective if the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights or UnidosUS gets in on the action. These groups already have ongoing advocacy efforts and will know what their members can best do to help.
Get to know your regional census office
Terri Ann Lowenthal, who was the staff director of the House subcommittee on census and population from 1987-1994 and on President Obama's transition team in 2008 and 2009 for the census, says "Establish lines of communication between civic leaders in your community and your regional census office."
Don't know where your regional census office is? Here you go . Note that there are six regional census offices; at this point in the game there should be 12.
Call your mayor
Shapiro notes, "The other people who need to be activated are big city mayors in almost every county in the country. Most of these cities have substantial Hispanic and African-American [and other] minority populations, and those mayors will have point people for the census."
The business community also has a strong interest in an accurate census-Target doesn't want to mis-site a new store based on faulty population numbers. So if you're a member of the National Association of Realtors , get in touch. Really, most civic, business and advocacy groups have a stake in an accurate census.
Get familiar with LUCA
Lowenthal, an expert on all things census and now consulting for the Leadership Conference, says, "Ensure that your jurisdiction (i.e. city, county, etc.) is participating in the 'Local Update of Census Addresses' or
, which has started already, either directly or through the state."
So what is LUCA? Lowenthal says, "It's the leading band (to use a hurricane analogy) of field prep for the census. It provides state, local, and tribal governments the opportunity to review, under strict confidentiality laws, the addresses for their areas-an accurate address list and the accompanying maps are the foundation of a good census. If an address is not in the master address file when the census starts, not only is the census likely to miss [those people], the Census Bureau won't
it missed them. LUCA is the cornerstone of a good census."
In July, all state, local and tribal governments were eligible for LUCA, and they have until December 15th to register and appoint their LUCA liason.
So how do you find out? Call your mayor, your chief county supervisor, your governor. Keep investigating. Lowenthal says "If you're with a community-based organization that works with harder-to-count populations, ask how you can help-especially with low-visibility housing."
Get the word out
Lowenthal says, "Help educate your community about the importance of a good census through letters to the editor or a guest newspaper column, as well as organizational newsletters (churches, social societies, etc.)."
Lobby for a new Census Bureau director
John Thompson, the former director, abruptly resigned at the end of June, and the position has not been filled, which leaves the bureau with only an acting director. Lowenthal says, "Write to your senators and ask them to urge the president to nominate a qualified, experienced, and non-partisan census director quickly and to confirm that candidate if he/she is, in fact, qualified for the post." Lowenthal points out that time is of the essence: In 2018 the Census Bureau begins field tests of new techniques to ensure an accurate count. Without a sufficiently experienced person at the helm, these tests could be delayed or insufficiently robust.
Establish and get involved in your CCC
Does your jurisdiction have a "complete count committee"? If not, get one started. "Urge the highest elected official in your municipality, county, and state to establish a complete count committee by early 2018, and help ensure that a full range of community interests are represented on the committee, including the faith community, philanthropy, business and industry, communities of color, immigrants and "language minorities," children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, veterans, low-income households, etc.," says Lowenthal. The census bureau works with these state and local governments to help them set up these committees and provides useful background materials. Right now there's not enough funding allocated for these partnerships, but state and local governments can proceed on their own.
There is one piece of good news: Most people want a good census, because they at least want their own communities accurately counted. And a new poll also shows that the public favors striking down politically-motivated gerrymandering , which comes out of census numbers. In the matters of the census, Americans may be more enlightened than their representatives.