Census 2020: Protecting and Maintaining a Fair and Accurate Census

November 10, 2018 -
10:00am to 11:30am
William O' Hare, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Kathy Pettit, Arturo Vargas

The 2020 census—mandated to accomplish an accurate count of every person living in the United States—is likely to undercount important segments of the population including men 18-29 years old, children under the age of five, people who live in sparsely populated areas and communities of color—in particular black, Hispanic, American Indians and Native Alaskan.

Why does this matter?  The undercount has critical implications for the distribution of $800 billion in federal resources, political representation at all levels of government and local planning for healthcare, education and transportation.  The 2020 census will determine how much federal funding states and localities receive each year for the next decade. When, for example, kids aren’t counted, their states don’t get their fair share of federal dollars for Head Start, school lunches, public health insurance, housing, child care and a myriad other programs and services that help low-income young children get a healthy start in life.

What’s more, the decennial census plays a key role in ensuring the integrity of our democracy.  The census is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to draw legislative districts at other levels of government. Vulnerable populations and communities that are underrepresented in the census don’t get their fair share of political power, violating the most fundamental values of representative democracy.

An inaccurate census counts also affects business decisions, distorts government planning and reduces the ability of advocates to hold officials accountable for serving those in need.  It also compromises the data that are fundamental for researchers who study social and economic conditions.

Response rates to government surveys in general have declined due to increased concerns about privacy, confidentiality and identity theft.  Immigrant families with undocumented members are sometimes reluctant to respond out of fear. The last-minute decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 survey will undoubtedly exacerbate this problem.

As researchers, policy advocates and decision-makers, we use Census data to identify how well specific populations are faring and whether there are disparities among groups, test whether programs are achieving their desired results and elevate conditions that can be changed through public interventions. 

We propose a panel comprised of researchers and advocates who use Census data and are working to protect and maintain its integrity in the face of underfunding and politicization. 
• Indivar Dutta-Gupta is the Co-Executive Director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative.  He has applied his training and expertise to produce fact sheets and articles that describe the risks of low-income and people of color being undercounted in the 2020 Census.
• Kathy Pettit is the Director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Project and a member of the Census Scientific Advisory Committee.  These two roles provide her with insights into the importance of a complete Census and its use in local planning, advocacy, governance and community development.
• Arturo Vargas is the is the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.  He is a nationally recognized expert in Latino demographic trends, electoral participation, voting rights, the Census, and redistricting. 
• Karen Narasaki is a national authority on voting rights, Census, media immigrant rights and race relations; she served on the U.S. Census Decennial Advisory Committee.  Karen will serve as moderator for the session.

Together, these four will talk about the upcoming Census, how it differs from previous decennial efforts to count those living in the U.S., the challenges to getting an accurate count and the implications of an incomplete or skewed Census.

For more information, see NNIP's 2020 Census activities and list of resources.