John Thompson, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, is retiring from his post. Ron Jarmin will take his place as acting director until President Trump can appoint a new director. While this may not seem like exciting news that affects your life, it is.
Preparations are well underway for the 2020 Census, which stands to be a controversial one. In fact, it already has been added to the Government Accountability Office’s list of high-risk government projects. Here, we take a look at the Census, its history and importance, and what makes 2020 a high-risk year.
What is the Census?
Simply put, the U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States. It takes place once every ten years, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “decennial” Census. The Census is required by Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t specify exactly which questions to ask or not ask. Federal courts have determined several times that it is constitutional for the Bureau to ask questions on the Census other than taking a simple headcount, if the questions are necessary and important for the government to do its job. Because of this, the Census has evolved over time (for example, the 1790 Census asked for the number of enslaved persons residing in a household).
The most recent Census, in 2010, was one of the shortest in history. It asked only seven questions: your name, gender, race, ethnicity, and where you live. The head of the household is also asked to provide information about how many people live in the residence, who owns it, and to give a telephone number for the residence.
Households are supposed to mail in their responses to the Census, but fewer and fewer have been complying in recent years. As a result, the 2020 Census will be the first one to rely heavily on online responses. While this is likely a more convenient method for responders than traditional mail, it also carries with it the increased risk of security breaches and fraud. Some are concerned that the Bureau currently doesn’t receive enough funding to avoid these issues and ensure an accurate count.
So Why is it Important?
Because seats in the House of Representatives are determined by population, the Census determines how many seats in Congress each district receives. Therefore, if the count is somehow tampered with, a district may wind up having more or less than its fair share of representation in Congress. The Census also directly affects how $400 billion in government funding is distributed throughout the country.
The government uses Census data to decide how much money local communities receive for programs such as hospitals, schools, senior centers, public works projects (such as bridges and tunnels), job training centers, and emergency services such as disaster relief and disease prevention.
What Do You Think? A controversial question surrounding the 2020 Census is whether or not to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the survey. Many government agencies have requested this information, but the Census Bureau decided not to include the question anyway. In your opinion, does the federal government have the right to ask people about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity? Why or why not?