Tag Archives: Census Bureau

And The Hits Keep Coming

Very few voters know–or care– much about the census. Counting the people who live in the land between “sea and shining sea” is one of those boring, technical tasks that government does, but  I doubt that a single vote has ever been cast because the voter felt that  it was done well or poorly.

Just because the census doesn’t arouse much in the way of passion, however, doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, it is very important.

The Constitution requires that the count be conducted every year that ends in zero–that is, every ten years. The census ensures that citizens of each state have the “correct” number of representatives, a number based upon population. It also tells us just how diverse the country is, which categories are growing and which are shrinking. One of the most important functions of the census is that it gives analysts–not just government analysts, but those working for a multitude of businesses and nonprofit organizations– the data they need in order to make important decisions and avoid wasteful efforts.

In a recent survey, 74% of city officials said they relied on the data collected by the census–that it was very important to the discharge of their duties. In a recent article, Think Progress reported

Ethnic minorities and traditionally underrepresented groups especially rely on the census for the voice it gives them in government — and are at risk if the survey goes awry or if their communities are not accurately counted. Because the Census Bureau uses this data to draw congressional maps, an undercount of diverse populations that traditionally vote Democrat could end up benefiting Republican districts.

That last sentence may hold a clue to the present straits in which the Census Bureau finds itself.

The Republican Congress has declined to fund the Bureau at the levels required–even cutting its budget despite the fact that significant population growth has expanded its workload. Worse still, the agency has been without leadership since the resignation of its previous director, and Talking Points Memo reports that Trump is proposing to appoint a pro-gerrymandering professor to the position.

The 2020 U.S. Census will determine which states gain or lose electoral power for years to come, and President Donald Trump is leaning towards appointing a pro-gerrymandering professor with no government experience to help lead the effort.

Politico reported Tuesday that Trump may soon tap Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who has no background in statistics, for a powerful deputy position that doesn’t require congressional approval.

He authored a 2008 book titled Competitive Elections are Bad for America.

This is a position that has historically been held by a career civil servant who has served many years in the Census Bureau. Brunell would come to the post from stints as a “consultant” for a number of Republican-controlled states that have been sued for racial and partisan gerrymandering, including Ohio and North Carolina.

Civil and voting rights advocates have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of this year about the fate of the 2020 Census, and the bureau currently has no director and faces a severe budget shortfall.

Now, there are fears that the appointment of an ideological conservative could lead to changes in the Census that could have repercussions for many years to come. For example, conservatives have long argued for adding a question about citizenship status to the Census, which may scare immigrants away from responding and being counted. As deputy director, Brunell would also have power over the ad budget used to encourage people to participate in the Census, and could potentially steer those resources in a way that favors conservative strongholds.

While most rational (and terrified) Americans are fixated on Trump’s more high-profile unstable and erratic behaviors, and upon Congressional Republicans’ passage of  irresponsible legislation that earlier iterations of their party would have loudly condemned, the knee-capping of the Census Bureau illustrates the real danger posed by this collection of crazies and incompetents.

This is the problem with putting people who hate government in charge of government. They will destroy its effectiveness in order to justify a return to that pre-social “state of nature” which Hobbes accurately described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.’

Sand In The Gears

The Census is among the multiple, pedestrian duties of the federal government. It is also among the multitude of duties that the Trump Administration is sabotaging, either through incompetence or malice.

Why should we care?

A recent report from the Brookings Institution spells out the uses to which an accurate census is key. As the article notes,

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.

We rely on the accuracy of the census for both democratic and fiscal decisions: the census  determines how the 435 members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states, and how members of state legislatures and many city councils are allocated in those jurisdictions.

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.

It isn’t only government that relies on the data provided by the census. Businesses– retailers,  commercial real estate developers, banks and many others– use census data to determine  the demographics and locations of potential customers and to 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.

Even worse, Trump has demanded that the 2020 Census add questions about the respondent’s citizenship and immigration status. Adding such questions would violate current laws protecting the privacy of the respondents, and would add immensely to the  fear that already prevents many members of immigrant groups from participating in the count. When such groups are undercounted, states, cities and towns with substantial populations of Hispanics and other immigrants are underfunded.

These and other significant, negative consequences of a mismanaged census evidently don’t worry our uninformed and clueless-about-government President. The Trump administration  cut Obama’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 Trump Administration: throwing sand in the gears of effective government one agency at a time….