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US Census will end One Month Earlier, Threatening Accuracy of 2020 Results

Updated: Aug 12


BY: Margaret Pham



This decade’s U.S. census collection will end on September 30th, one month sooner than expected. In a statement issued by the Census Bureau’s Director Steve Dillingham, the Bureau plans to, “improve the speed of our (the Census Bureau’s) count without sacrificing completeness”. When asked how census collectors planned to do so, he responded: “we will conduct additional training sessions and provide awards to enumerators”. 


Every decade, the US counts every living person in its 50 states and 5 territories. This constitutionally mandated practice requires congress to collect data and use it to adjust representation in Congress. By taking the census every ten years, the U.S. can accurately apportion 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states based on state populations. The political representation determined by this census will be instituted for the next 10 years, or until the next census. 


In addition to the pandemic’s effect on many normally in-person collection efforts for several months, this new deadline will further hurt populations that have been historically undercounted and underrepresented in data. One of the most historically undercounted populations is the Navajo Nation; their territory consists of parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. It is not known how many Navajo households have access to the internet, or even to the U.S. postal system. Under normal circumstances, the Census Bureau would collect population data in person. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, these in-person collections have been halted nation-wide. The vulnerable Navajo Nation has been devastatingly impacted and left behind during the pandemic, facing some of America’s worst outbreaks. Populations at the brunt of the pandemic will be disproportionately left behind as field operations are paused. In fact, many have not even received their invitations to fill out their census forms. As of today, less than 1% of the Navajo Nation have responded to the census. 


As communities rely on accurate census data for adequate federal resource allocation spanning the next ten years, experts worry that undercounting BIPOC communities that have already been historically miscounted will hurt them further. States have already had difficulty with counting those who did not have access to the internet or the U.S. postal system, but states with especially diverse languages are faced with challenges as well. Take DeKalb County in Atlanta, Georgia, where nearly 800,000 people speak at least 64 different languages. 


So what is at stake when the numbers could potentially be skewed? Since the count will determine how many seats each state will get in the U.S. House of Representatives, it also makes the accuracy of the census very partisan.


Nearly $2 billion dollars per year for the next decade are also at stake. This money is siphoned out for things like public safety, public health, immunizations, head start programs for children, summer jobs, and more. This could be dangerous if those who need it most are not even accounted for. 


As of right now, nearly 63% of households have completed their surveys over the internet, by mail, or on the telephone. However with the early deadline this leaves much less time to wait for the other 37%, or nearly 23 million households. Compressing the window of counting also impacts homeless people, college students, and those who reside in nursing or rehabilitation centers.



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*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.



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