Defending the Confidentiality of Census Data

A coalition of data users urged the Secretary of Commerce to uphold the confidentiality protections for Census data.

In a December 12 letter, the Population Association of America and seven other groups expressed their alarm at revelations that the Department of Justice considered sidestepping essential confidentiality protections for Census survey data.

The reason for concern was “internal Department of Justice (DoJ) documents recently released as part of the New York vs. Department of Commerce case show that senior DOJ officials refused, in response to a question from Congress earlier this year, to confirm a 2010 Office of Legal Counsel ruling that no provisions of the USA Patriot Act supersede Census Act (Title 13 U.S.C.) data confidentiality protections, even for law enforcement or national security purposes. This development alarms our organizations.”

The protection of “census data confidentiality is essential to maintaining the integrity of all census surveys,” the letter continued. “Since the end of World War II, Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have embraced Census Act confidentiality provisions. Any suggestions that the Administration is even considering a reinterpretation of existing law could undermine public trust in the federal government’s ability to secure personal data. As a result, we believe response rates to surveys, particularly the decennial census, will plummet, generating inaccurate and incomplete essential demographic and socioeconomic data about our nation.”

The Population Association of America, American Statistical Association, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Association of Public Data Users, Association of Population Centers, Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and the Insights Association, urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to “reaffirm” his “support for upholding strict confidentiality protections in Title 13 and to reassure the public that census data will be not misused or shared inappropriately with any federal agency. We believe such a public statement of support will help restore the public’s faith and improve chances of achieving an inclusive, successful 2020 Census.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) recently led a comparable letter to Secretary Ross and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) a similar effort sent to the Department of Justice.

Independent Report Shows Trouble Ahead for Citizenship Question

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund has done an extensive analysis of the Providence End-To-End field test for the 2020 Census.

The results show that the citizenship question is likely to depress response rates among communities of color.

California Citizenship Suit Heads to January Trial

Federal Judge Richard Seeborg of California’s Northern District has set January 7 as the trial date for a suit challenging the Trump Administration’s attempts to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form. The suit was brought by the state of California and the city of San Jose, and joined by various other government and nonprofit plaintiffs, in two separate cases merged by the federal court into one trial.

The suits are part of six legal challenges to the citizenship question filed by opponents across the country. Meanwhile, a federal judge in New York City is expected to rule soon on a suit brought there by New York state and a variety of other plaintiffs.

California, with a Latino population of about 40%, would be the most critically impacted by the additional citizenship question.

For media covering the California trial, a good background piece on the demographics of the state is a report by noted demographer Dr. William O’Hare titled Counting All Californians in the 2020 Census, with county-by-county data on all communities of color in Appendix A. Further, Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund is an excellent source of information on the implications of the California trial itself.

2020 Census Milestones

The Funders Census Initiative, with the assistance of our colleague Terri Ann Lowenthal, has developed a census milestone fact sheet detailing the various 2020 Census activities ranging from the opening of local census offices around the country, to the beginning of the advertising campaign and the initiation of actual enumeration activities for the next decennial census.

Citizenship Suit Heads to Judge for Decision

An article appearing in the Sunday edition of The New York Times Magazine details the just concluded trial in federal district court challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.

Meanwhile, a Reuters story outlines attempts by Democratic Congressional leadership to insert a ban on adding the citizenship question in the next decennial census as part of the final federal budget “deal” this year.

Census Budget Heads for December 7 Showdown

A letter to Congressional appropriators, organized by the Census Project and co-signed by more than 190 organizations, urged Congress to quickly pass a FY 2019 budget for the Census Bureau of at least $4.4 billion.

“Ever since Congress directed the Bureau to mount an aggressive paid outreach and advertising program after the disappointing 1990 Census, never has the need for these efforts been greater if we are to win full public cooperation with the 2020 count. We are nearing the 11th hour in preparations and any disruption to funding will put at risk a full and fair count that is vital for the next decade to secure the continuation of fair political representation for our democracy and the just allocation of federal tax dollars to states and localities,” said Mary Jo Hoeksema, co-director of the Census Project.

In a separate letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the Census Project said, “given the uncertainty surrounding the final FY 2019 CJS deliberations, and the delicate, consequential state of Census 2020 preparations, we encourage you to exercise your authority and ensure uninterrupted funding for the Census Bureau if a partial government shutdown occurs. Census Data are vital to America’s economy and local planning, as well as countless investment decisions made every day. Ensuring the timely delivery of the 2020 data should be a national priority.”