2020 Census: Who Are We the People?

Lily Ryan
August 10, 2017

With the many ups and downs of health care and immigration over the last seven months, I’ve found myself quoting numbers and statistics all the time: Who receives benefits from what programs; which states have the most to lose if the ACA was overturned; numbers that illustrate immigration’s positive impacts of on a state and national level.

Thinking deeper into each of these data points, a more basic question emerges—from “Who are the people who will be affected?” to “Who are the people?” Every ten years we have a constitutionally-mandated census and we as a country get to ask this question: “Who is here?” The answer we find shapes legislation, budgets, and federal policies and programs for the next ten years.

Catholic tradition tells us that every person matters and that no one deserves to be left behind. The 2020 Census is an opportunity to affirm the presence and worth of our entire population, most especially those who have been left out of the minds and hearts of lawmakers. As people of conscience and members of a diverse and changing society, it is our duty to make sure everyone is counted and treated with dignity, and the fate of funding for the 2020 Census will have a major impact on whether or not we can succeed.

The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the most overlooked agencies in the federal government, but its work has an enormous impact on the functioning of the rest of government. As Congress shifts its focus to the federal budget, funding for the Census Bureau at the level needed to gather an accurate picture of the United States in 2020 is in serious jeopardy.

Funding for the census in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget will either establish or prevent an effective and efficient 2020 Census process . The GOP and the White House have signaled their reticence to allocate adequate funding to the census, focusing particular ire on the Census Bureau’s modernized techniques, including statistical and spatial analysis in combination with traditional mail-in and door-to-door surveys.

Full funding of the census must be a budget priority starting now because an effective census process will ensure a more accurate count of the population. Insufficient counting methods have, in the past, led to an undercount of some populations and an overcount of others.

The populations most likely to be undercounted- low-income people, people of color, young children and undocumented immigrants- are also the groups who are most at-risk as the GOP and Trump administration seek to make cuts to social programs. An undercount of these populations in the 2020 Census would only compound the exclusion and damage caused by the GOP’s draconian budget proposals.

An accurate census count will have long-lasting ramifications on the allocation of federal money for programs that help low-income families with healthcare and child care, provide job training and employment programs to people without jobs, and promote safe and healthy communities across the country. In a time of alternative facts and fake news, we should all agree that the census is something we need to get right.

Lily Ryan is a summer intern with the NETWORK Communications team.

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