Girl Gone Planning: Census 2020 or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accept the Count

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

If you have been paying attention to the Trump administration, you're probably suffering from spinning head syndrome or whiplash. The news coming out every day is dizzying and comes so fast that even I admit to taking weekends off from news sites for my own mental health.

One of these many fights that have occurred has been over the upcoming Census in 2020. The administration wanted to add a citizenship question to the decennial count of how many people are living in the country. Regardless of how you feel about the merits of asking such a question, the Census is tasked with counting how many people are living in the country, and that includes citizens and non. The citizenship question has since been removed from the 2020 Census, but some of the damage of the fight may manifest itself anyway in what demographers call an undercount. Some communities (immigrant, Latinx, people of color, etc) are weary of providing information about where they live to the government, and have often been undercounted by the census. This has been historically around 3.5-4% of these populations, and in 2020 that could mean undercounting these groups to the tune of 4 million people. The fight to add this question, even if it is now absent, may make people fearful of providing any info to the government, regardless of how they may use the info.

The Census affects everything from congressional representation to how much money municipalities get in federal funding for things like highways, sewer and water systems, airports, etc. An undercount of that magnitude will have big repercussions in cities and states that have large immigrant, Latinx, and people of color communities.

The Census lays the foundation for the way we set up our Congressional districts and the fact that Democrats cluster themselves in urban areas means we are packed in congressional districts where our representatives routinely garner 60-70+ percent of the vote in elections, while Republican representatives sail by with more modest margins. This is called an efficiency gap, and can only by countered by a huge wave, as happened in 2018. Having an accurate Census count helps to ensure that residents everywhere get the representation that they deserve.

In an effort to limit an undercount, several states and cities have budgeted funds to get people in these communities comfortable with the process (which will be mostly online in 2020), the prospect of providing the government with information, and with speaking directly with Census workers. California has directed over $100 million in funds to this effort, and now New York has announced that there will be $60 million available. Texas, the second largest state in the country by population, has decided to spend no money on the 2020 effort, leading many of the state's largest cities scrambling to find money on the local level so that they won't be undercounted. Texas, if undercounted, may lose out on gaining an additional seat in the House of Representatives because of this undercount, but its state leaders have decided that it isn't worth it to count these communities, who as stated above, are immigrants, black, and non-white. This may backfire on Texas' conservative leaders because some of the most undercounted communities could end up being rural, costing representation there.

The Albany area was the fastest growing metropolitan area in New York State at the 2010 Census and every city here showed population growth for the first time since 1950. It is very likely that trend has continued. Housing has continued to be built in Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Cohoes, and Saratoga. Albany is also on the edge of regaining a population of 100,000, a level that means more funding and is psychologically important to residents and elected officials. With a projected population of 98,500 in 2018, an undercount of 4% could mean missing that mark.

This writer's word of advice is to participate, be counted, and encourage your friends to participate as well.