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The census is so important, it's in the Constitution, the results of the census determine how this country distributes more than a trillion dollars every year for stuff like roads, schools, hospitals, emergency services.
And those results are used to lock in the maps of political power until the next census, 10 years later. So why in the middle of a global pandemic is counting for the census ending early?
The US Census Bureau is suspending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on September 30th, which is a month sooner than previously. And now it's not like the census is ahead of schedule. About four in every 10 households still haven't even been counted.
This year's count started in January and because of the pandemic was supposed to last through the end of October.
But the new report out from NPR says the administration wants to end doorknocking efforts for the 20 20 census.
Early last month, we learned and the bureau later confirmed that they're packing it in a month ahead of schedule. Many feel the move will lead to an undercount among historically difficult to count populations, including people of color, immigrants and residents of rural areas.
In fact, experts say this year's census could be the most expensive and least accurate ever in U.S. history. Coming up, why the Census Bureau's career officials, unlike the Trump administration, say they need more time, not less.
And who in the U.S. is most likely to be left out of that count? This is considered this from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It is Friday, August 14th.
Support for this podcast and the following message come from Integrative Therapeutics, creator of Physicians Elemental Diet, a medical food developed by clinicians for the dietary management of IBS, IBD and SIBO under the supervision of a physician.
So here's a thing we want to say right off the bat, you can get counted in the census without leaving home if you go to my 2020 census dot gov to start the process, which takes about 10 minutes, it's clear this is a really important thing to do.
The first thing you see on the site in a giant font is shape your future, start here. By now, every household in America is supposed to have gotten at least one letter encouraging them to go to that website and complete the census. You can also call a toll free number or fill it out on paper and mail it back.
But all that initial outreach a lot of times isn't enough.
The census is about power, money and respect for our communities and our cities undercounted. We risk being underrepresented, especially our communities of color.
Cardi B did a census PSA for New York City, also in Spanish and census another DeNardo that has met often with the economy.
That is because people of color and immigrants are among the most likely to be undercounted. We're going to talk more about that later.
For people who don't do what Khateeb says and fill out a census form online or by phone or by mail.
The U.S. government usually depends on people like Kevin Doud, a retired accountant in Pennsylvania. And I'm enjoying my retirement. And I thought that I would help out the census for something to do in a normal year.
Kevin Dowd would have passed a background check and then started the process of training to be a census worker, someone who knocked on doors and helps people get counted one household at a time. The Census Bureau has said they need about a half a million people to get that job done. So far, though, as of August 1st, they only have around one hundred and fifty thousand. Kevin Doud is not one of them. He made it through the background check, but bowed out before the training session because he was worried about getting the coronavirus.
How many people would be in the hospital room? Many people come back from vacation from places that have. It's hard enough, even without a global pandemic, to hire and train half a million people earlier this spring, the president seemed to suggest that he understood that the census this year needed more time during this difficult time.
We're also working to ensure that the 2020 census is completed safely and accuracy.
This was in April when the Trump administration and career officials at the Census Bureau, because of the pandemic, first asked Congress to extend their legal deadlines to deliver results by 120 days.
In addition, while millions of Americans continue to complete their questionnaire online, the Census Bureau has asked Congress for a 120 extension. I don't know that you even have to ask them. This is called an act of God. This is called a a situation that has to be they have to give. And I think 120 days isn't nearly enough.
But the Census Bureau did have to ask to get federal law changed.
And here's what happened or didn't happen.
Only Democrats introduced legislation to extend the bureau's deadlines. The White House and Republicans stayed quiet. And by May of this year, we are looking to the United States Congress. Tim Olson, the bureau's associate director for field operations for the 2020 census, said publicly the Census Bureau no longer had time to produce a complete and accurate count. You know, we have passed the point where we couldn't even meet the current legislative requirement of December 30 because we can't do that anymore.
We we passed that for quite a while.
And Vanita Gupta, a former Obama administration official who now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told NPR there is no good reason not to give the Census Bureau more time. There is no other reason for the Trump administration to be rushing the census if they didn't have a partisan or illegitimate motive. So what now? Census Bureau officials and workers all over the country are trying to count as many people as they can by the end of September. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, who broke the story that door knocking for the census was wrapping up early, has this report on why counting every person living in this country is, of course, harder than ever.
Right now, the Census Bureau still needs to count about four in 10 households nationwide in the middle of a pandemic and now under a time crunch, that's a job that is becoming near impossible.
Some folks are a little hesitant based to the corporate environment.
Deveson Perskie is a Census Bureau's assistant director in charge of operations and scheduling for the 2020 census, which is the first primarily online U.S. census conducted in the field using smartphone apps.
We're also seeing some folks who are uncomfortable because they're not as savvy, I would say, with the iPhone.
All these challenges are making it harder to staff up with enough doorknockers. As of earlier this month, the bureau had on its payroll about a third of the half million workers bureau has said it needs to complete the count by September 30th.
And technology problems have made it difficult for some people who want a census job to actually start working.
Well, it's very it's very frustrating. Alex Goulder was recently hired as a doorknocker in Boulder, Colorado. Goulder says he lost out on six potential workdays because he was having trouble finishing training online.
I know that there are a lot of people out there that need to be counted and that essentially every day that I don't work, there are people that will go uncounted.
And Stanley Gravier says you can count him out of this census work.
The older people who are retired and don't really need the money and are doing it because they believe in democracy and they believe in the census.
And Gravier, who is 73 and is retired attorney who worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs, says that's why he sat through around 20 hours of training to become a doorknocker in Maryland.
But after I saw the absolute total lack of any type of real protection for any of the employees, it's time to get out of there.
The CDC and the Census Bureau say that participating in interviews with the bureau's workers, quote, should present a low risk of transmission of covid-19. Bias says its workers are getting cloth face masks and hand sanitizer and are supposed to conduct socially dist. interviews outdoors as much as possible.
Still, many census job applicants are worried and are dropping out. As for households who are concerned about the risk involved, ditch the Dornoch, says Didas, KRG director of the California Complete Count Campaign.
Avoid having somebody come to your door because it takes more time and it's going to be more accurate if you just go online at my 20 20 census dot gov or call in or mail back your census response before the end of September.
NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Since the very first U.S. Census in 1790, America has been undercounting people of color.
Remember the three fifths compromise Southern slave owners who wanted more representation in Congress wanted enslaved black people to be counted in the census. Northerners did not want that.
So the two compromised one slave would be counted as 60 percent of a free person. Today, black people and other people of color are undercounted for different reasons.
But the end result is the same a loss of power and representation in our democracy. Jerry Green has worked on this issue for decades, first from inside the Census Bureau and now with the National Urban League. She talked to my colleague, Ari Shapiro.
Historically, why are people of color less likely to be counted? Well, there's an especially now a great deal of distrust, historic distrust in federal governmental institutions. We know that and particularly in times like the 1918 pandemic, people are living probably doubling up in households who may not have a place to stay. And so people don't want to put on their leases. For instance, they don't want to share information about what how their household is composed. They're immigrants.
In fact, the Trump administration just a year or so ago tried to put a citizenship question on the census questionnaire, asking people what was their citizenship status. So there's a fear by our immigrant population, undocumented and documented, that there would be retribution if they fill out the census form.
What are the real world consequences of being undercounted if one community is counted less in the census, what does that community end up getting less of?
You will be cheated out of a representative democracy. I need to say that, Ari, based on the census count, over a trillion dollars is allocated to local jurisdictions and states every year. And if you don't get it, another community will get it because the money follows the count. It does not follow the need.
Are there steps that outside groups like yours can take that might encourage people to respond even if the Census Bureau is not doing as much as it did in the past?
Well, we were going gangbusters. I tell you, our organizations across the board, we were working together across racial and ethnic lines collaboratively. The National Urban League, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Congress of American Indians. We did toolkits. We had canvassing plans in place and then covid hit. We had to pivot to utilizing social media to reach our various populations. Social media gave us an advantage in many respects because we could at least begin reaching our young people.
So how optimistic are you about the ability of these outside groups to get the job done, even if the Census Bureau is going to be knocking on doors for a month or less? I mean, do you think you'll be able to make up the difference? We are so concerned about this that the national response rate for the census is below where it was in 2010, and we know that the the biggest answer to this is encouraging people, urging people, begging people to self respond while they can go on the Internet and don't wait for someone to knock on the door, because given the shortages, hiring shortages that the Census Bureau has and the utter chaos that has been sold by this administration, we don't know if a will come.
Jerry Green with the National Urban League, talking to my colleague, Ari Shapiro. There's one more thing we should say. And it's a point that Khateeb makes to there is no citizenship question on the census.
The census is safe, easy for every one, every member. The citizenship question is off the census. No matter what anybody tells immigrants with or without papers come to me, they simply go to my 2020 census. That Gulf now fill out simple questions to get counted.
Additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered and editing help from NPR's Hansi Lo Wang and Acacia Squires. For more news, download the NPR one app or listen to your local public radio station. Remember, supporting that station makes this podcast possible. This show is produced by Brianna Scott, Lee Hale and Brent Bachman. It's edited by Sami Yenigun and Beth Donovan with fact checking from Ian Lee. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo. Thank you for listening.
I am Kelly McEvers.
Black voters play a crucial role for any Democrat who seeks to win the White House. But some big divides amongst that bloc and some serious ambivalence could determine who is elected president this November. Listen now on the Code Switch podcast from NPR.