2020 Census Count in Jeopardy?

Congress Must Take Steps to Ensure An Accurate 2020 Census Count

May’s unexpected resignation of the U.S. Census Bureau Director and the remaining uncertainty about future funding are raising questions about the bureau’s ability to carry out its constitutional mandate of counting the American population in the 2020 Decennial Census.

The year 2020 may seem like a long way away, but key actions, testing, and planning occur in the 3-year run-up to the census. A leadership void now can prevent the Census Bureau from being ready to survey the nation in 2020. In fact, the bureau has less than one year before it must submit to Congress the questions that will appear on the survey.

The 2020 Decennial Census has lasting implications for all Americans, government agencies, businesses, and academic institutes. In addition to providing a social, demographic, and economic profile of the U.S. population, data collected in the decennial census is used to allocate congressional seats, redraw legislative districts within states, and allocate billions of dollars in federal spending. Knowing how many people live in the U.S. and where matters.

A massive ramp-up in operations is now in question as Congressional Republicans have inadequately funded the Census Bureau. At the moment, the bureau is operating with $263 million less than originally requested from Congress, money needed to ensure accuracy and proper rollout. President Trump has also shown no inclination to increase funding as the 2020 Decennial Census approaches, as previous presidents have done. Already, 2017 tests that were supposed to have taken place in Puerto Rico, North and South Dakota, and Washington had to be cancelled as a result of the uncertainty surrounding funding.

The 2020 Decennial Census provides lawmakers and government agencies with key information used in developing and executing programming. The Department of Veteran Affairs, for example, relies on Census Bureau data to determine where hospitals should be built to better serve veterans. Data is also used by the federal, local and state governments to determine the proper allocation of resources, such as determining the appropriate response to natural disasters. Data integrity and accuracy are vital to federal statistics and basic operations of government.

Data from the Census Bureau is critical for American commerce and the economy. Indicators from the survey provide businesses, markets, and investors a pulse of the U.S. economy. For example, Fortune 500 firms, like Minneapolis-based Target, use Census Bureau information to identify potential markets for expansion and how to better serve their customers.

Additionally, Census Bureau data is used for research and development at academic institutions and corporations, many of which rely on this information to innovate and analyze trends, as well as study economics, demographics, and changes in population in the United States.

Without a dedicated leader and adequate funding, many are left wondering if the Census Bureau will be able to fulfill its mission. Kenneth Prewitt, who ran the Census Bureau during the 2000 Census, put it this way: “The Census is on a relentless calendar, and there’s much, much work to do over the next three years.” Congress must now take the necessary steps to ensure a smooth rollout of the 2020 Decennial Census with full funding behind the leadership of a new director backed by Democrats and Republicans.