The 2020 Census is just 5 years away and here’s why we have to care today

by Terry Ao Minnis

“86–365 Census Day” by PaulSh via Creative Commons

Today, April 1, marks five years out from Census Day .

That may seem irrelevant to your life today and like a long time away, but in reality, we have a lot to do right now to make sure we have an accurate census. Otherwise, we run the risk of having inaccurate data on our communities and won’t have the best chance at making sure Asian American communities’ needs are met by local, state and federal governments in the years following the 2020 Census. Not to mention, census data has been pivotal in advancing civil rights because it illuminates instantly — through hard numbers and stats — any unequal opportunity and unequal access.

While the 2020 Census might seem far off, the Census Bureau realistically has little time remaining to lock in design the questionnaire and protocols. This year, 2015, is a pivotal year for decisions that will determine whether promising, but complex, new initiatives — such as offering Internet response options, for example — will be effective.

These initiatives need to be tested thoroughly and in census-like environments to make sure we get the data we need. This testing requires full funding from Congress. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are calling for cuts to the Census Bureau’s budget, which would devastate the quality of the data we currently get from the Census Bureau. If Congress fails to provide the necessary funding to the Census Bureau, they will not be able to conduct the needed research and testing in a timely fashion, putting the accuracy of the 2020 Census at risk and our communities at risk.

In addition, the Census Bureau has been testing potential new ways to ask a respondent’s race and ethnicity, including options that remove the Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) subgroup check boxes currently on the form. Removing the check boxes would result in having even less data on our communities. This is one of the last times the Census Bureau will run these tests on the check boxes, and so it’s extremely critical all the proper steps are taken to address any potential decrease in detailed race reporting among Asian Americans and NHPIs seen across these different tests.

Advancing Justice | AAJC is working hard to make sure funding isn’t cut for the 2020 Census and that our concerns over future data collection methods are heard. We have urged Congress to support the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request of $1.5 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau’s vital work. Last week, Mee Moua, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC, serving as an advisory member representing the Asian American community participated in the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations spring meeting at the Census Bureau.

We will continue this work, and it’s important that members of Congress know that they should not cut funding for the Census. An accurate snapshot of our country is at stake and the next few years are critical.

Terry Ao Minnis is the director of the census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice