It’s 2018 and We’re Already Fighting About the Next Census

It’s 2018 and We’re Already Fighting About the Next Census

The battle over the 2020 census has already begun.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.  The calendar on the wall does say May 2018.

The census is a multi-year process that involves lots of planning and organizing to design the survey and get all Americans to complete it.  In fact, Assembly Select Committee on the Census Chairman Marc Berman expects the state to spend about $200 million in public and private funds on the next census.

The census is not an arcane function of government.  In fact, it’s become another big political fight.

At a recent Public Policy Institute of California luncheon, Berman said why the census is so important.  An accurate count helps California get its fair share of federal dollars and preserves the state’s political voice in Congress.  PPIC’s Sarah Bohn noted that the census produces valuable information about demographics, poverty numbers, and workforce trends.

The 2020 census has become embroiled in the politics of immigration.  In March, the Commerce Department announced that 2020 census would include a question about citizenship.

While critics of the decision say that the question hasn’t been asked on the census since 1950, the reality is that it is asked on the census American Community Survey, which is a more frequent census taking and is the current equivalent of the old census “long form”.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has sued the Trump Administration over the issue, furthering his reputation as one to sue Trump over the drop of a hat.

It will be an interesting case.  Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution says Congress must conduct a census every 10 years, “which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons”.

Asking about one’s citizenship status seems to be a reasonable question that could help government officials better meet the needs in our communities.  This is especially so when you consider the comments of for US Census Bureau director John Thompson, who said at the PPIC event that there is no identifying individual information in the census tabulation.  In other words, no one who answers honestly about their citizenship status should fear their door will be kicked in by the feds.

Opponents fear that adding a citizenship question will depress participation in the census in immigrant communities.  John Dobbard of the group Advancement Project California noted at the PPIC luncheon that non-profit groups are already “message testing” what will motivate immigrant communities to participate in the Census.

Berman put the dilemma for California best.  One of his colleagues noted that they have been encouraging their undocumented constituents not to open the door if the federal government knocks.  Now, they’ll be telling them not to open the door to the federal government unless it’s the census.

The outcome of this dual political battle and court fight will have huge implications for California’s representation and political power in the next decade.

Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.