The Trump Administration is Disrupting the 2020 Census

The decennial Census is a genuinely powerful institution in American life. I didn’t understand its impact until I oversaw the Census Bureau as it prepared and carried out the 2000 decennial Census, when I was Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs. Believe me, the upcoming 2020 decennial Census will matter more than you think. Yet, Congress and now the Trump administration have set the 2020 decennial on a course that threatens its basic accuracy. In so doing, they put at risk the integrity and effectiveness of some of the national government’s basic missions.

Normally, the Census Bureau spends the first six years of each decade planning the next decennial Census. The Bureau’s funding ramps up in years seven, eight and nine of the decade, when it tests and purchases its technologies, conducts a nationwide inventory of residential addresses, orders forms, letters and advertising, and begins to lease local offices and train temporary workers. It is expensive to accurately locate and count 325 million people in 126 million households (2016). That’s why, for example, Census funding jumped 96 percent from 1997 to 1998, and more than 60 percent from 2007 to 2008.

The problems began in 2014, when the Congress decreed that the 2020 Decennial Census should cost no more than the 2010 count without adjusting for inflation, or some $12.5 billion. The Obama administration objected, but to no effect – although it’s worth recalling that Bill Clinton took a different tack in 1998, when he vetoed an omnibus budget bill and risked a government shutdown to get rid of a provision that would have barred the Census Bureau from using statistical sampling to verify the 2000 count.

The Census Bureau did what it had to do to live within its new budget constraints: it drew up new plans to cut costs by replacing thousands of temporary Census workers and hundreds of temporary offices with new technologies and online capacities. It also had to do what it shouldn’t have done: To save money, the Bureau aborted a planned Spanish-language test census and didn’t test or implement new ways to more accurately count people in remote and rural area. Census also ended its plans to test a range of local outreach and messaging strategies to get people to fill out their census forms, which are crucial to minimizing undercounts in many minority and marginalized communities.

Even so, the Census Bureau prepared to ramp up funding in 2017 and 2018, as it normally did, under the $12.5 billion cap. Enter the Trump administration, which cut the Obama administration’s 2017 budget request for the Census Bureau by 10 percent and then, this past April, flat-lined the funding for 2018. It is no coincidence that the Director of the Census Bureau, John Thompson, resigned in May, effective in June. It’s a serious loss, since Dr. Thompson directed the 2000 decennial count and is probably the most able person available to contain the coming damage to the 2020 count. For its part, the administration hasn’t even identified, much less nominated, his successor. It is no surprise that the Government Accountability Office recently designated the 2020 Census as one of a handful of federal programs at “High Risk” of failure.

The costs of starving the decennial Census could be great. It not only paints the country’s changing demographic and geographic portrait every 10 years. Its state-by-state counts determine how the 435 members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states; and its counts by “Census block” (roughly a neighborhood) shape how members of state legislatures and many city councils are allocated in those jurisdictions. That’s just the beginning.

Consider as well that every year, the federal government distributes about $600 billion in funds to state and local governments for education, Medicaid and other health programs, highways, housing, law enforcement and much more. To do so, the government uses formulas with terms for each area’s level of education, income or poverty rate, racial and family composition, and more. The decennial Census provides the baseline for those distributions by counting the people with each of those characteristics in each state and Census block. Similarly, the Census Bureau conducts scores of additional surveys every year on behalf of most domestic departments of government, to help them assess the effectiveness of their programs. Here again, the decennial Census provides the baseline for measuring each program’s progress or lack of it.

Without an accurate Census, many states and cities will be denied the full funding they deserve and need, and the federal government will have to fly blind for a decade across a range of important areas. Moreover, many businesses also rely on decennial data, from retailers and commercial real estate developers to the banks that finance them. Data on the demographics and locations of potential customers not only inform their planning and investments. In some cases, the data actually make their projects possible, for example, when an investment qualifies for special tax treatment if it occurs in places with certain concentrations of low or moderate-income households.

The Trump administration cavalier approach to the 2020 decennial Census is evident in ways other than its funding deficit. A draft executive order, leaked but not issued so far, would direct the Census Bureau, for the first time in over 200 years, to “include questions to determine U.S. citizenship and immigration status.” The Census Bureau is legally required to protect the privacy of all Census data from requests by anyone, including government officials. Unsurprisingly, many people remain skeptical and avoid answering the Census out of fear that other government agencies will access their information. Requiring that Census 2020 probe each respondent’s citizenship and immigration status would turbo-charge those fears among Hispanics and other immigrant groups. The result would be systemic undercounting and underfunding of states, cities and towns with substantial populations of Hispanics and other immigrants.

There is still time for a course correction that could rescue the 2020 decennial Census, in next month’s negotiations over the 2018 budget. With some GOP members of Congress exhibiting a measure of newly-found independence from the Trump administration, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell could need Democratic support to pass a budget. A wide range of minority advocacy and business groups, along with most big city mayors, have vital interests in an accurate decennial Census. It’s up to them to pressure Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to make adequate funding for the Census one of their top priorities. Otherwise, one of the basic mechanisms for fair and competent governance could be disabled for a decade.

This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.

NDN, Andres in NYTImes Piece Today about the Census

The always interesting Julia Preston has an insightful piece in the NYTimes today about efforts to ensure Latino  participation in the upcoming census.  It includes a reference to recent NDN work spearheaded by Andres Ramirez:

Nearly 12 million Latinos voted in November 2008, an increase of two million votes over 2004, according to an analysis by Andres Ramirez, a researcher at NDN, a Democratic advocacy organization. Now, in the first census since Hispanics passed blacks to become the second-largest population group in the United States, Hispanics want to extend that voting power with a census count that would support more elected representatives for their communities.

An analysis by NDN and America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, projected that a full count of Hispanics would lead to a significant redrawing of the Congressional map, with six states picking up one Congressional seat (Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah), while Arizona would add two and Texas as many as four.

For the US Latino community the next three years will be of great consequence.  We will see the census, the passage of immigration reform and the 2011/2012 reapportionment at the federal and state levels.   If each happen as they should, as Andres' reports above show, there will be a significant shift of political power in the US to states and parts of states with fast-growing Latinos populations, the beginning of a more proper alignment of the actual number of Hispanics in the US with their political representation at all levels of government.  For Hispanic leaders making sure that all three of these game-changing events happen, and happen as they should, is both a great opportunity and great challenge in the years ahead. 

For many years NDN and our affiliate the New Policy Institute has worked to make sure that the extraordinary demographic transition underweigh in the US today both better understood and for it to play out with the least amount of social strife possible.  Which was what drove us this year to not only aggressively champion comprehensive immigration reform and the nomination of Sonio Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, advocate for closer Hemispheric ties and relations with our Latin neighbors, produce the reports cited above, but to also lead the successful campaigns to get CNN to drop Lou Dobbs and to defeat the pernicious Vitter-Bennett amendment in the US Senate which would have done so much to disrupt the census next year.

In looking back at our work these last few years I think this work - helping ease and enable the extraordinary demographic transition underway in the US - has been our most important and lasting contribution to the national political debate.  I am grateful for all the support the NDN community has given us - the whole NDN team - to lead on these basket of issues which have often been hard and sometimes not well understood.  But led we have, with moral clarity and bull-headed conviction, and the I would like to believe that the nation is just a little better for it. 

But the battles ahead may be our most important yet.  Get ready my friends.

Update - Here is the redistricting report cited above.

Watch or Drop by Tue for "How Hispanics Are Shaping Census, Reapportionment"

On Tue, lunchtime, NDN is co-hosting an event with America's Voice,"How Latinos Are Shaping Census 2010 and Reapportionment.   At the event we will be releasing a major new report with a lots of information about US Hispanic population growth and how it is effecting American politics. 

To learn more, get the coordinates for watching live, or to RSVP visit here.

See you Tuesday.

Newsweek Looks at Vitter-Bennett

The online edition of Newsweek has a new story on the Vitter-Bennett effort to disrupt the census and reapportionment.  It includes these two graphs: 

Immigrant advocates have been bracing for this clash for months. As Simon Rosenberg of the left-leaning New Democrat Network recently argued in a blog posting, “The Republican assault on the census and reapportionment will not end next week even if the Bennett-Vitter Amendment is voted down,” which it likely will be. “This is going to be a titanic battle.”

Rosenberg and others decry the proposed amendment as divisive. They say it seeks to pit traditionally red states that receive fewer immigrants (like Indiana and Montana) against blue states that are magnets for them (like California and New York). Indeed, an analysis cited in a New York Times article today showed that if noncitizens were stripped out of the population totals, California would lose five congressional seats and New York and Illinois one each. Among the beneficiaries (surprise, surprise): Louisiana, Vitter’s home state, which would be spared the loss of one seat. Get ready for more skirmishes ahead.

A Senate vote could come as early as today.  Call your Senator or use this site to take online action against this pernicious effort. 

And use this recent NDN Backgrounder for more.

Progress on 3 Important Fronts - Drop Dobbs, Vitter-Bennett, 9500 Liberty

Just wanted to report in, quickly, on progress on three projects NDN is taking a leading role on right now. 

Drop Dobbs - Several weeks ago, along with more than a dozen other groups, NDN helped launched Drop Dobbs, a website and campaign designed to knock Lou Dobbs off CNN.   Tens of thousands have signed our petitions, watched our videos.  And the campaign itself has gotten a lot of notice.  Dobbs himself has addressed the campaign on the air, more groups are signing on, and some new steps will be announced soon.  The NY Times has a major piece by Brian Stelter today which is the most important press story yet generated on the campaign - be sure to check it out, and if you haven't yet please add your name to the petition today.

Defeating Bennett-Vitter - For NDN blog readers you know that we have been long talking about the day Republican leaders would mount a series effort to derail reapportionment and the census by challening the propriety of counting non citizens particularly in the reapportionment process in 2011-2012.  Well that day has come now, with Senators Bennett and Vitter attempting to put an Amendment on to the current Commerce appropriations bill which would add an 11th question to the census next year, in an attempt to get an accurate count of the non-citizens in the United States.  NDN has issued many statements, been up on the Hill, organized two press conferences this week with allied groups and in general helped organize a well orchestrated push back on this irresponsible effort that would undeniably cost the country a great deal of money, threaten the integrity of the census and reapportionment processes and almost certainly be found unconstitutional. 

For more on this important advocacy effort visit here, and also feel free to read some of the press stories this effort has also generated. Be sure to contact your Senator this week and ask them to vote no on Vitter-Bennett (the vote could be as early as Weds). 

9500 Liberty - Our favorite movie, 9500 Liberty received an extraordinary early review this week:

It’s a bitter human irony that we can be at our ugliest when we’re fighting for our most passionate verities, including democracy, freedom and the American dream. And it seems to happen most often in the politics of immigration.

Most of us are good people when we’re sitting around the dinner table. What happens to us as soon as we step up to the public podium?

If there’s one movie that shows the worst -- but also the best -- in that regard, it’s a documentary you’ve probably never heard of. As of now, it's unreleased.

Like many other independently made documentaries, “9500 Liberty” doesn’t have a distributor. That ought to change. So far, it has been on the festival circuit with forthcoming stops at the San Diego Asian Festival (Oct. 27), the San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki Theater (Oct. 29), and festivals in Virginia, Austin and St. Louis in November.

And it lit up the virtual nation of Youtubia when filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler posted their movie in progress.   In the summer of 2007, Park and Byler took their cameras to Prince William County, Virginia, where an explosive debate was taking place.

In response to the burgeoning influx of Hispanics, the local board of supervisors was considering legislation that would require police officers to stop and question anyone who gave them “probable cause” to suspect was an illegal alien.  The film follows the interaction within the board, out in the community and over the Internet, as the issue attracts increasingly inflamed and widespread debate.

And as we watch events unfold, we can’t help noticing this is all taking place in Manassas, the hallowed battleground site where another racially charged matter divided the political nation.

This postmodern version of civil war may not have the musketry and the spectacular loss of life of its predecessor. But it doesn't lack for absorbing drama. And a memorable cast of characters...

.....Even though the filmmakers’ political sentiments aren’t too hard to identify, there’s something to watch for viewers of any political stripe. “9500 Liberty” is local, yet powerfully American. And not unlike Marshall Curry’s excellent 2002 documentary “Street Fight,” which chronicled the stunning rise to power of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, it shows us politics where the rubber meets the road.

With an uplifting turn of events and some extraordinary acts of conscience, “9500 Liberty” is as dramatically charged as any fiction movie. And ultimately, it’s as powerful a booster of the democratic process as anything Frank Capra ever imprinted into our collective memory.

Those of you in SF this week are lucky - along with several other organizations we are cohosting a screening of 9500 Liberty this Thursday night, October 29th, at Sundance Kabuki.  I hope you will be able to attend, and see what I have called one of the best movies I have ever seen. 

NDN's Campaign to Stop Divisive Vitter-Bennett Amendment Makes Headlines

Leading civil rights groups joined NDN for a press conference on Tuesday to oppose the amendment proposed by Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Bennett (R-UT). If passed, their amendment would add an additional question to the census forms (which have already been printed) asking about one's legal status. Not only would this cost tax-payers millions of extra dollars but this amendment would discourage minority participation in the census and thus threaten the accuracy of this crucial decennil count. In his statement on the floor of the Senate, Senator Bennett essentially admitted that the data collected from his amendment would influence the reapportionment process. To use any number other than the number of "whole persons" residing in a state when reapportioning powering in the House of Representatives is in clear violation of the text and legislative intent of 14th Amendment.

But we aren't the only one's concerned with Sens. Vitter and Bennett's attempt to stop the census. Our campaign against their amendment is making headlines. Check out some of the stories below:

Battle Over Census Becoming Fight Over Illegal Immigration, Politics Daily, 10/22/09.

How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census, The New York Times, 10/20/09.

Critics Take Aim at Pending Spending Bills, Congress Daily, 10/20.09.

Should the Census Count Illegal Immigrants?, The Atlantic Wire, 10/20/09.

Proposed Census Change Would Reveal Undocumented Immigrants, Scripps-Howard Foundation Wire, 10/20/09.

Eye Opener: Citizenship and the Census, 10/16/2009. Washington Post

Obama Administration Dodges Political Problem as Census Amendment Moved to Back Burner, Talking Points Memo, 10/14/09

Republican Senators Vitter, Bennett Attempt To Force Census To Ask Immigration Status, 10/8/09, Talking Points Memo.

Let’s NOT Take A Census!, 10/8/09, The Census Project Blog.

Counting Immigrants Key for Communities
, The New Republic, 9/25/09.

Census chief: Bennett's immigration bill not practical, 9/23/09, Salt Lake Tribune.

Our Unconstitutional Census, 8/9/09, Wall Street Journal.

NYT: How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census

From an editorial today in the NYTimes, "How To Waste Money and Ruin the Census" -

With the start of the 2010 census just a few months away, Senator David Vitter, a Republican of Louisiana, wants to cut off financing for the count unless the survey includes a question asking if the respondent is a United States citizen. Aides say he plans to submit an amendment to the census appropriation bill soon.

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

During debates in the Senate, Mr. Vitter said that his aim is to exclude noncitizens from population totals that are used to determine the number of Congressional representatives from each state. He is ignoring the fact that it is a settled matter of law that the Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country, without regard to citizenship, and that those totals are used to determine the number of representatives.


Changing the survey now would be a disaster for the census and for American taxpayers. The Senate should defeat any and all attempts to alter or delay the 2010 count.

We here at NDN agree.  Later this morning, NDN wiill join 10 other groups in a press conference asking the Senate to reject the Vitter-Bennett effort to disrupt the census and reapportionment.  Last week I sent this letter to every Senator asking them to oppose these efforts in the days ahead. 

Check back later for more from our press conference.

10/20 Press Conference: Leading Civil Rights Groups Join NDN to Oppose Divisive Vitter-Bennett Amendment

Tomorrow: Tuesday, October 20th at 11 am in Dirksen 406, the nation's leading civil rights groups will join NDN for a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce their opposition to the divisive Vitter-Bennett Amendment aimed at undermining the 2010 Census. The Amendment, proposed by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), seeks to add an 11th question to the census forms (which have already been printed) that would discourage minority populations from participating in the census and thus threaten the accuracy of the count.

In his letter to Senators urging them to vote "no" on the proposed Amendment, NDN President Simon Rosenberg wrote, 

While the  Vitter-Bennett Amendment may appear innocent, its intent and practical effect on the  census and reapportionment process is not. If enacted the Amendment would almost certainly disrupt an orderly census count next year, eventually found to be unconstitutional, all the while start ing a highly divisive  conversation about race, the Civil War and the 14th Amendment in the  very first year of America's very first African-American President.

NDN joins the following organizations in denouncing the harmful Vitter-Bennett Amendment:

AAJC—Terry Ao, Director of the Census and Voting Programs
CAP – Angie Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy & Advocacy
Demos – Tova Wang, Senior Fellow
HNBA – Liz Lopez, Vice President for External Affairs
LCCR – Wade Henderson, President
LDF – Kristen Clarke, Co-Director Political Participation Project
LULAC – Brent Wilkes, Executive Director
MALDEF – Claudine Karasik, Legislative Staff Attorney
NALEO – Gloria Montano Greene, Director, Washington, DC Office
PFAW – Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program

For more information on the census, reapportionment, and this dangerous Amendment, check out NDN's backgrounder on the issue.

My Letter to Senators Urging them to Vote No on SA 2644, the Vitter-Bennett Amendment on the Census

Dear Senator,

If the Vitter-Bennett Amendment SA 2644 on HR 2847 regarding the Census comes to a vote this week, I urge you to vote no.

While this Amendment may appear innocent, its intent and practical effect on the process are not. If carried out, it could dramatically disrupt an orderly Census count next year, throw the Census process into a legal and political morass that could also threaten a clean and accurate count, and is part of a broader strategy by Senator Bennett to challenge the upcoming reapportionment process which at this point appears remarkably, and offensively unconstitutional. There are simply too many questions about this Amendment for you to vote yes on it this week. 

I will let others address the practicality of adding a new question to the Census at this very, very late stage. But I do want to address Senator Bennett's argument about why getting an accurate count of the non-citizens in the U.S. today is so important - to deny the ability for the undocumented immigrants in each state to count towards the upcoming reapportionment process. In his own statements on the Senate floor, and in his press release, he has made it clear that this reason is behind his Amendment - to start a racially charged effort to disrupt the once every ten year reapportionment process in 2011 and 2012.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, when Americans fought each other over slavery, the nation passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in order to make it clear that in reapportionment all people must be counted, and counted equally, correcting the infamous three-fifths of a person clause of the Constitution. The new language read:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.

Senator Bennett's Amendment, while it does not address reapportionment directly, is part of a broader plan to directly challenge the 14th amendment - and thus the legal basis of the entire modern civil rights movement. This is a strategy that we believe is unconstitutional and will certainly be - given the historic import of this Amendment - offensive to some.

The issues being raised by Senators Bennett and Vitter are neither simple nor easy. If enacted their Amendment would almost certainly disrupt an orderly census count next year, and start a highly charged conversation about race, the Civil War and the 14th Amendment in the very first year of our first African-American President. I urge you to vote no on this Amendment, and request that issues it raises be given the level of consideration and scrutiny they deserve. This issue is too important to be left to a hastily tossed together and ill-considered amendment. Let Senator Bennett use his bill to start a more informed debate, giving all sides time to prepare.


Simon Rosenberg

PS: Follow this link to read NDN's recent background report on this issue.

NDN Backgrounder: Census 2010, Immigration Status and Reapportionment

As the US Senate gears up to vote on Vitter-Bennett SA 2644, NDN offers commentary and information regarding this pernicious amendment.  

Earlier this year, several Republican senators expressed outrage over the perception that the new White House Administration was playing politics with the Census. The outrage was so deep that US Senator Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination as US Secretary of Commerce citing concerns over this perception to politicize the Census. Now these very same Republican Senators are resorting to the very same techniques they decried earlier this year. This amendment only serve serves to politicize and delegitimize what is expected to be a very nonpartisan process. The result could cost billions of dollars, and will complicate efforts to inform and prepare state and local governments for the changing demography and characteristics of this nation.

From the NDN Blog:

Senators Bennett, Vitter Escalate Their Attack on the Census, Reapportionment, 10/10/2009. Simon Rosenberg summarizes the proposed attempt by Senators Vitter and Bennett to use this amendment as way to racially charge the debate on Census.

The Latest Attack on the Census is an Attack on All of Us, 10/01/2009. Robert Shapiro addresses the importance of an accurate Census, and the impacts of the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

GOP Senator Introduces Bill to Bar Undocumented Immigrants from Reapportionment Process, 9/25/2009. Simon Rosenberg writes about the impact of the Bennett amendment noting that Senator Bennett’s  motives are purely political.

The Coming Battle Over the Census
, 8/10/2009. Simon Rosenberg discusses the emerging battle that conservatives will mount to politicize the Census.

Other Media Sources:

Republican Senators Vitter, Bennett Attempt To Force Census To Ask Immigration Status, 10/8/09, Talking Points Memo.

Census chief: Bennett's immigration bill not practical, 9/23/09, Salt Lake Tribune.

Let’s NOT Take A Census!, 10/8/09, The Census Project Blog.

Our Unconstitutional Census, 8/9/09, The Wall Street Journal.

Syndicate content