The 2020 Census is less than a year away, and there are concerns about preparedness for this Constitutionally-required decennial enumeration and accuracy of the results.
There are questions about the reliability and security of new and untested software systems being used for the count.
For past censuses, survey forms arrived in people’s mailboxes, and those who didn’t mail them were visited by enumerators with more paper forms.
This time, most households will receive an initial mailing in March inviting them to respond online on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. Paper forms will be mailed then to the 20% of the population least likely to be online, including older people and those in areas with low Internet connectivity.
Households that don’t respond online will receive paper forms by mail. When enumerators knock on doors to follow up with those who still haven’t responded, they’ll intake respondents’ information digitally with iPhones.
Going digital is intended to cut costs, but cybersecurity experts say it increases the risk of census data being hacked by the Russians or other foes. This could result in certain geographical areas or ethnic groups being undercounted or some other form of data manipulation. Census Bureau officials say they’re working with government and private sector cybersecurity experts to prevent census hacking.
The Washington Post reported that even if census data isn’t hacked, cybersecurity concerns could create opportunities for fake reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials accompanying census enumerators and other misinformation seeking to influence how or if residents participate.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Census Bureau had only 2,000 temporary workers last month. The year before the 2010 Census, the bureau had hired 146,000 people for door to door visits and other work.
A Census Bureau spokesman told CNN that it would only need 40,000 to 60,000 canvassers from August to October because it’s using aerial imagery and administrative records to verify addresses for the 2020 count. It plans to end up with nearly 500,000 workers to complete the count.
Knowing residents are more apt to trust local people and groups, the bureau is seeking formation of “complete count committees” in communities nationwide. These committees involve local governments, libraries, neighborhood groups, churches and other not-for-profits.
North Carolina is among at least 30 states with a statewide complete count committee to promote and facilitate this strategy, but so far Wilkes isn’t among counties with complete count committees. Watauga and Alexander are among counties with these committees, which will tell why the census is important, what will be asked, how it works and more details.
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked efforts to require that the census include a citizenship question, but uncertainty about the outcome of this issue and the controversy itself may still discourage participation. Printing of census forms that don’t ask if respondents are citizens reportedly has started.
Like voting, participating in the census is a powerful exercise in democracy. It’s important because it determines how much federal money each state receives for the next 10 years for Medicaid, food stamps, federal student loans, highway projects, low-income housing, school lunches, foster care, adoption support and more.
The census affects political redistricting, congressional apportionment and even where businesses might locate. North Carolina is expected to pick up a congressional seat after the 2020 Census.
Rebecca Tippett, PhD, a highly-regarded demographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called the census “the backbone of virtually every data product researchers, governments and businesses use to understand who we are, how we’ve changed and what this might mean for the future.”
Tippett continued, “It’s also the most democratic and inclusive activity we do as a country. This once-a-decade count is the only source of basic demographic data on all individuals living in the United States. We have one shot to nail it for the next decade. It’s less than a year away, and we must ensure that the Census Bureau has the resources it needs to conduct a complete and accurate count of all Americans. This data is critical for decision-making and research in so many sectors. We’ve got to get it right.”