Congressional Hearing on Citizenship Question Set

Amidst swirling controversy about the announcement by the Trump administration that they intend to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census form, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue on May 8.

Meanwhile, coordinated by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Service Employees International Union, a group of 300 organizations, including the Census Project, questioned the Trump administration move and called for public hearings.

And, Robert Shapiro, former undersecretary for economic affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce who oversaw the 2000 decennial, has posted a useful blog on the Brookings site on the issue.

Problems in Providence and Citizenship Op-Ed

The field test of new census counting methods for the 2020 Census is now underway in Providence, Rhode Island for about 250,000 households. According to the Census Bureau timetable the door-to-door enumeration (non-response follow-up) begins in early May as initial online, mail and phone responses are completed.

But, according to the first two on-the-ground news articles about the field test, problems have already developed.

On another topic, two former secretaries of Commerce, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, have written an op-ed opposing the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Citizenship Question Jeopardizes Census Accuracy, Undermines Funding Progress

This blog was originally posted by the CBPP on March 29.

. . .

By Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census will not only reduce responses by immigrants and thereby make the count less accurate, experts say, but it also could trigger new costs that offset part of the added census funding that the President and Congress just provided.

To be sure, the Census Bureau’s additional funding — which policymakers provided in their recent 2018 government funding bill — is welcome, although it still falls short of ensuring an accurate census so that each state has fair representation in Congress, districts are drawn fairly within states, and federal funding is allocated appropriately for programs from Medicaid to economic development to child care. The funding bill raised the bureau’s 2018 budget by $1.3 billion, to $2.8 billion, after several straight years of underfunding. It appears to fund important priorities — such as information technology systems that will support the census’s first-ever online response option — at about the level that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requested last year.

The bill also includes some advance funding for 2019, which is important because the bureau next year will need to gear up quickly for the 2020 census, and it can’t afford to wait if policymakers are late again in enacting spending bills this fall, as is widely expected. In fact, much of the added $1.3 billion will likely be spent in 2019.  Congress also directed the Census Bureau to expand its public communications and outreach work.

The Administration’s announcement, however, that the census will include a citizenship question could have a chilling effect on responses by immigrants and others, especially in the current political environment, igniting fears of how the government would use the information. In fact, the question could add millions of dollars to the cost of the 2020 census by suppressing initial responses and forcing the bureau to follow up with worried households as best it can. More immediately, the question makes more work for the bureau as it plans how to anticipate such fears and reassure non-citizens and citizens alike that the government will not misuse the data.

The Administration’s decision, which Ross announced, violates overwhelming expert advice:

  • The Census Bureau itself warned against adding the questions. As Ross’s own announcement admitted, “The Census Bureau…expressed concern” that the citizenship question would lower non-citizen response rates and “reduce the accuracy of the decennial census and increase costs.”
  • All living former Census Bureau directors objected to adding a citizenship question. In a recent letter, six former directors — who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents — called adding the question “highly risky.”  “There is a great deal of evidence that even small changes in survey question order, wording, and instructions can have significant, and often unexpected, consequences for the rate, quality, and truthfulness of response,” they warned. Four of these same former Census directors also wrote to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 that asking about citizenship status in the decennial census “would likely exacerbate privacy concerns and lead to inaccurate responses from non-citizens worried about a government record of their immigration status.…The sum effect would be bad Census data.” All nine living Census Bureau directors have at various times publicly opposed past efforts to add such a question.
  • The American Statistical Association wrote to Ross in January to “strongly caution” against adding the question.

The Administration has not provided a compelling reason for the question. Its chief claim — that adding the question would help enforcement of voting rights  — makes little sense, according to Vanita Gupta, who served as President Obama’s top enforcer of the Voting Rights Act. Gupta, who now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told Ross in a letter that “the Justice Department has never needed to add this new question to the decennial census to enforce the Voting Rights Act before” and “there is no reason it would need to do so now.”

Already, the enacted Census funding level does not appear to provide for the level of communications and outreach activities and field offices that stakeholder organizations had sought. With the new question, the bureau’s need to anticipate and overcome respondents’ fears will likely become even harder and more costly.


Census Stakeholders React to Addition of a Citizenship Question to the Decennial Census

Late on March 26, the Department of Commerce announced that the 2020 census will add a citizenship question, as requested by the Department of Justice late in 2017.

A variety of Census Project stakeholders have already responded to the decision:

  • “The civil rights community is speaking with a clear, united voice: this decision is wrong for our communities, our democracy, and our country, and we will fight to overturn it.” – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • “As scientists, our members are concerned about the negative effect an untested citizenship question would have on decennial census response rates and, ultimately, the validity of the decennial data. Based on the experience of other surveys, population scientists have observed that responses to citizenship questions tend to be of low quality. Further, we have seen firsthand how adding questions to any survey inherently increases costs as well.” – Population Association of America (PAA)
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, also hosted a joint telephone press briefing
  • “This decision circumvents the Census Bureau’s routine research and testing processes to ensure potential questions do not affect the quality of responses and could compromise one of the most valuable data resources the government produces.” – Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA)
  • “By deciding to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census at the 11th hour, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has further undermined the integrity of one of the most preeminent scientific agencies in the world, further jeopardizing the accuracy of the 2020 Census and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process… The addition of any question at this moment in time would have catastrophic consequences for Latinos and all Americans.” – National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Education Fund
  • “Without testing and with fewer respondents, the decennial headcount likely will be less accurate, less valuable and unnecessarily expensive… To ensure accuracy, the census requires the highest possible representation of our population. Every subsequent survey and study that intends to be statistically representative of the U.S. population will be built on decennial data, and any inaccuracies will be felt for at least a decade.” – The Insights Association
  • “The decision by Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a citizenship question for the 2020 Census is untimely, unnecessary, and unwise. A citizenship question is likely [to] have a devastating impact on obtaining an accurate count for communities like Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” – Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
  • “Adding a citizenship question without a testing opportunity in a contemporary, census-like environment will run the risk of introducing serious undercounts for many population groups in the 2020 Census.” – Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS)
  • “The inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Census is a political calculation designed to undermine our Constitution and undercount children, people of color, and other vulnerable populations.” – NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  • “Secretary Ross is wrong. The decision to include a citizenship status question will make a complete population count even more difficult to achieve. The Census is far too important to communities of color to be comprised.” – National Urban League

Stakeholders have also posted to our Census Project recently on the citizenship question:

Census Budget

Last Friday, President Trump finally signed an omnibus spending bill for the entire federal government for this fiscal year, including the FY2018 appropriation for the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census.

The new FY2018 Census Bureau budget is one billion dollars over the administration request and represents a Congressional acknowledgment of what the Census Project and its stakeholders have been saying for a number of months.

The “ramp-up” of intense activities to support the next decennial now requires billions of dollars in new monies to ensure a fair and accurate census.

In response to the approval of the new budget numbers, the Census Project said, “The dismal trend of many years of underfunding 2020 Census preparations has finally been reversed with bipartisan support in Congress. Our assessment is the Bureau now has the minimum resources needed to prepare for its Constitutional mandate. However, the FY2019 funding level will be critical, and supporters of a full, fair, and accurate count will remain vigilant.”

The final FY2018 budget provides for a new $50 million contingency fund to meet unforeseen emergencies, an immediate ramp-up of the communications and community partnership effort, and a requirement that the Census Bureau quickly inform Congress of how it intends to utilize its new resources on behalf of the 2020 Census.

Now the challenge of the FY 2019 Census Bureau budget begins!