The Saga of the 2020 Census Extension

There has been a dizzying amount of information about the 2020 Census in the news lately–new political appointees at the Census Bureau, a presidential memorandum excluding undocumented immigrants from apportionment, changes to key field operations, and contradictory Administration positions on whether to extend or not extend the statutory reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting data. Believe it or not, these events are closely intertwined.

On April 13, 2020, in a joint statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Director Steven Dillingham announced that, “[i]n order to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is seeking statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts. Under this plan, the Census Bureau would extend the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020, which will allow for apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data to be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.” President Trump publicly supported the request, telling reporters, “The Census Bureau recently made the decision to temporarily suspend its field operations data collection activities to help stop the spread. In addition, while millions of Americans continue to complete their questionnaire online, the Census Bureau has asked for a 120 [day] extension. I don’t know that you even have to ask them. This is called an act of god…I don’t think 120 days is nearly enough.” (quoted in The Hill, 4/13/20)

But only three months later, without explanation, the administration abandoned its request to push back the statutory reporting deadlines, forcing the Census Bureau to rush through remaining counting operations (specifically the Nonresponse Follow-up Operation) and curtail vital quality check and data processing activities, even though the national self-response rate at the start of the door knocking operation was the lowest ever, and the number of homes to visit in person the highest ever.

What changed?

Read more: “The Saga of the 2020 Census Extension: What Happened, and Where Are We Now?” Aug. 19. 2020. Population Association of America (PAA).