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….