We are less than a year from the next U.S. Census Bureau count, and like just about everything else these days, there is a political twist.
But before we get to that, here is why an accurate census is important, enough so that the Founding Fathers wrote specific instructions into the U.S. Constitution about the need to count everyone in the United States.
The Census occurs every decade, and is a snapshot of America that determines how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be apportioned, how state and federal funds are distributed, where businesses ship products and where they build new stores.
All that is vitally important, and we will use the situation here in California as an example: In 2015, the most recent year for which an estimate is available, California received more than $77 billion in census-related funding. That represents more than 80 percent of the total federal funds this state and its residents received that year. Federal dollars account for more than one-third of all state spending, pegged at more than $100 billion last year. The federal dollars account for a big share of state spending in these areas, ranging from 10 percent of the budget for the California Department of Education, to 63 percent of Medi-Cal.
Most federal programs depend on the Census numbers to calculate the share of federal funding for each state, and each Census updates such counts.
So much for the details, which were made fairly clear in Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
Then federal officials jumped into the picture by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire. A trial just concluded in New York, and one that began this week in San Francisco federal court may help decide the citizenship question’s future.
The courts are presiding over lawsuits by the state and California cities arguing the citizenship question is politically motivated and would discourage immigrants and Latinos from participating in the Census. The U.S. Justice Department disagrees, insisting safeguards are in place to prevent any kind of undercount.
The problem is that there is no way any form of federal safeguard will compel people to participate in the head count, if those folks think they are being singled out because of a citizenship question. Many Americans may believe that undercounting the illegal immigrant population is acceptable, because those people are breaking the law.
Again, one need only refer back to the Constitution, which set up the rules to make sure everyone is counted, without regard to their citizenship status.
The simple fact is that given the current anti-immigration climate in America, simply having such a question on the Census questionnaire will discourage people from filling out the form, perhaps fearing that federal officials will use the Census information as the basis for a roundup and mass-deportation exercise.
The Constitution provides guidance in that area as well. A person who refuses to answer the Census questionnaire can be fined up to $5,000, although the feds haven’t prosecuted that crime in nearly a half-century.
The point is that everyone should be counted, because everyone in this country is being represented in Congress, and the allotment of federal funding affects everyone, citizen or not.
The last time there was a citizenship qualifier on the census questionnaire was in the 1950 census. And as much as some Americans might like to be back in that era, it is long gone.
The courts need to uphold the Constitution’s requirement for a full count.