The Census Bureau has ramped up the number of workers as they knock on doors of Americans across the nation in efforts to secure responses for the decennial count but their task has become even more challenging in recent days.
Despite the importance of achieving an accurate response rate for the 10-year survey which determines federal funding and political representation in both urban and rural communities, the Trump administration recently decided to end the count one month earlier making Sept. 30 the revised deadline.
The shortened campaign for responses has many Census experts and advocates highly concerned, particularly in light of low response rates in a plethora of hard-to-count Census tracts already negatively impacted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Latest estimates from Census officials say that door knockers still need to reach four-in-10 households who have not responded equating to more than 60 million households still uncounted.
In addition, many of the Census counters who are older citizens, have chosen to abandon their duties, fearful of contracting COVID-19 as they make their rounds. Further, as reported on a recent NPR program, those trained to do outreach to communities must complete many hours of online training before they can go door-to-door. And with the shortened deadline, some Census outreach workers have decided to opt out of the job.
The announcement of the shortened deadline which came Monday evening has generated sharp criticism including several former directors of the Census Bureau who released a statement urging the administration to restore the lost weeks.
The former directors, who worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations, issued a warning that an earlier deadline would “result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” while also recommending that Congress assemble a trusted body of experts to develop standards for assessing the quality of the bureau’s population totals.
Other requests of similar urging came on Tuesday from a network of agencies and nonprofit institutions that act as liaisons between the Census Bureau and state governments and assist with using population data to make policies.
“The credibility of the U.S. Census Bureau as the gold standard of data in the U.S. will be undermined by rushing an incomplete census count to meet deadlines,” a letter from the group stated.
Initially, the Census Bureau had earlier planned and set an April 2021 deadline because of the coronavirus pandemic, making the change to meet a federal deadline to get the numbers to President Trump by the end of the year. But Democratic lawmakers said the change reflected a deliberate attempt to undercount groups that tend to support their party.
Federal law requires the Census Bureau to send population totals to the president by Dec. 31 of every census year. However, with the pandemic, the House approved the new deadline in May – a change that the Senate, controlled by Republicans has not been supported.
In addition, while the Constitution requires a count of all residents, Trump maintains that the count should apply to U.S. citizens only and not all residents. He has indicated that he will remove undocumented residents from census totals before he sends totals to Congress for use in reapportioning the House – a decision which has several lawsuits claim would be unconstitutional.
The shortened deadline has put some Republicans in a precarious position especially in major GOP strongholds like Texas and Florida that would inevitably lose seats in the House in the next reapportionment given the large number of undocumented immigrants who reside in both states.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, said described the situation as a catch-22.
“It would hurt Florida but at the same time, it dilutes the representation of people that are here legally and eligible to vote.”
The decision to shorten the counting schedule serves as an about-face from the Census Bureau’s statement months earlier which said the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the need to request additional time to complete the count, particularly for those households already identified as those most likely to be missed in this year’s tally.