Democracy under siege by efforts to keep you from being counted in the Census
In normal times, the Census Bureau might be entirely capable of counting every person living in the United States, fully and accurately, and presenting the final tally to the president by the last day of the year, as required by law.
But these are not normal times. There is no end in sight for COVID-19, which has killed nearly 152,000 people and thrown the nation’s economy into a record-breaking free-fall. Taking a complete census is a particularly daunting challenge during a pandemic. You can imagine the difficulty of gathering data door-to-door, a crucial final step in the census process, at a time when many people won’t even answer the door.
It should be an easy call, then, for Congress to extend the deadline by four months for the Census Bureau to complete its work. And it would be an outrage if the door-to-door component of the Census count were actually cut short — ended on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31 — as the bureau reportedly now plans.
The four-month extension of the Census Bureau’s deadline should be included in the next coronavirus economic stimulus bill, as Democrats have called for. President Donald Trump’s own hand-picked Commerce Department chief, Wilbur Ross, first requested the delay back in April.
Any quiet plan to cut back on door-knockers, as first reported Friday by National Public Radio, should be dropped.
Our worry is that the White House appears to be pressuring the Census Bureau to wrap up its count sooner rather than later for bald political reasons. Republicans fear a full and accurate census count would result in a reapportionment of congressional districts in favor of the Democrats. The GOP fears that an honest census would shift a greater portion of some $1.5 trillion in federal funding — for everything from Medicaid to schools to transportation — to heavily Democratic cities and states.
As it is, the Census Bureau already has fallen behind in the count. Four out of 10 households nationwide still have not participated, according to a new Pew
Research Center study, and many Americans say they are reluctant to talk to outreach workers. In Chicago, the city-wide census response rate so far is 55%, and the rate in some South and West Side neighborhoods is a mere 40%.
Cutting short the time allowed for door-knocking by census-takers — at the homes of people who have been unresponsive to other counting efforts — could result in a massive undercount, in particular, of people of color and immigrants. These are groups that historically have been undercounted to begin with.
In written testimony submitted on Wednesday to a House committee, former Census Bureau Director John Thompson warned that the bureau would be forced to rely more on statistical methods to estimate the data about people living in households that censustakers did not reach.
“The end result would be [overrepresentation] for the white nonHispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count,” Thompson wrote.
‘Democracy under siege’
In a speech on Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot included threats to an accurate census as one of the ways in which “our democracy is under siege.” She put it on the people of Chicago to do their part to keep that from happening — by participating in the Census online and answering the door.
“If you don’t fill it out, you get left out,” Lightfoot said. “If you are not counted, you give your power, you give your voice away, to someone else. For us to be represented, you need to be counted. For us to receive our rightful share of federal funding, you need to be counted.” We’d like to echo that message. If you have not done so already, go online at 2020census.gov and fill out a census form. If a censustaker knocks at your door, open it.
Wear a mask, of course, and maintain that 6 feet of social distancing — as the census-taker will have been trained to do — but do your part.