The 2020 Census–Foundation of Redistricting, and So Much More

Reapportionment (the allocation of Congressional seats based on population) and redistricting (the redrawing of boundaries for the U. S. House and state House and Senate districts) depend on an accurate, timely and complete census. Our every-decade population count also establishes guidelines for allocation of federal funds for a wide range of programs. However, there are major hurdles facing the 2020 census.

Funding is always an issue. The most immediate threat is the government shutdown. The Census Bureau is closed during the shutdown, but carryover funding from 2018 is continuing preparations for 2020. That money will eventually run out. The cost of the 2020 census is estimated at $15.6 billion, and a prolonged funding stalemate could be disastrous.

Another threat is the proposal that the census include a question on citizenship. The census is supposed to be a count of total population, not citizens, and there is concern that the question could discourage responses, even from legally documented workers. This issue is going before the U. S. Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for February.

Cybersecurity threats are another serious concern. Last year the Census Bureau identified close to 3,100 security weaknesses in the IT systems for the census. Fixing these is a big job.

Will there be enough workers? For the 2010 census the government hired about 635,000 temporary workers but the low unemployment rate is making hiring difficult in 2019.

Finally, there is concern that the census will undercount communities of color and other hard-to-count populations. This concern has been heightened because the Justice Department has raised the possibility of accessing census data to force release of confidential census responses earlier than the 72 years after collection required by law.

The census is central. The American people must support efforts to ensure that it is accurate, timely, and that there are no exceptions to the well-justified confidentiality of responses. We all depend on it!

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