What the Hell Is Going On With the Census?

Only 63% of the country has been counted, but the Census Bureau is shutting down its operation a month early.
August 4, 2020, 1:45pm
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

The simple goal of the Census is to count as many people living in the United States as possible, but the Trump administration appears hellbent on making sure that doesn’t happen.

The Census Bureau is officially cutting short its counting efforts, ending them a month earlier than expected, with tens of millions of households still to be counted, alarming Census advocates who say the administration is rushing the process.

"Continued disruptions to the Census plan will only diminish the likelihood of an accurate result,” former House staffer and Census consultant Terri Ann Lowenthal told NPR last week.

The Census Bureau plans to stop canvassing at the end of September, and will stop collecting responses via phone, mail, and the internet at that time, bureau director Steven Dillingham said in a release on Monday.

“We will end field-data collection by September 30, 2020,” Dillingham said. “Self-response options will also close on that date to permit the commencement of data processing. Under this plan, the Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities.”

Nearly 63 percent of households, or 93 million households, have completed the Census, according to Dillingham—meaning more than 50 million households have not been counted, many of which are harder-to-reach populations such as rural populations, the poor, and people of color.

The change has been anticipated for weeks. In April, the Census Bureau asked for an extension on its deadlines due to COVID-19, and top officials at the bureau have said for months that it won’t be possible to submit all the data to the president by December 31 as required.

Then, in July, the Trump administration asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to appropriate $448 million in the next coronavirus relief package to ensure “timely” completion of the Census, the New York Times reported last week.

Census advocates say that rushing the count will result in wildly inaccurate data. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, but one thing is absolutely sure: There will be egregious undercounts if the Census Bureau has to produce this data by December,” Robert Santos, the vice president of the Urban Institute think tank, told the Times at the time.

But extending the deadline requires signoff from Congress, and while Democrats in both chambers of Congress have introduced bills allowing the extension, Senate Republicans have so far been unwilling to extend the deadline, according to NPR.

This is far from the only controversy surrounding the 2020 Census. In 2018, the Trump administration attempted to add a citizenship question to the Census, a plan which according to one study could have resulted in the undercount of as many as six million Latinx people. The attempt was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court.

Last month, Trump issued an executive order excluding undocumented people from the population used to divide up the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and the administration has already been sued multiple times over the executive order.

Cover: An activist holds up a sign urging Brooklynites to fill out the 2020 Census during a rally in Brooklyn, New York, on August 2, 2020. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)