California would be the primary victim in a GOP war on the census

The 2020 census is headed for a debacle, and California is among the states most likely to be victimized by it.
Every 10 years, the Constitution requires the federal government to “enumerate” the nation’s residents. The count — traditionally accomplished by mailed questionnaires and house visits — determines political apportionment and the allocation of federal funds for the next decade.
The problems faced by the 2020 census begin with its unrealistically low budget. At mostly Republican insistence, it is set at the same level as the 2010 census budget, so it doesn’t account for a decade’s worth of inflation, or for population growth — and there will be an estimated 25 million more people in the U.S. by 2020. On top of that, the Census Bureau is using new technology to reduce door-to-door counting, and thanks to the bureau’s meager funding, it is far behind on testing it.
The 2020 census’ predicament is dire enough that in February, the Government Accountability Office added the census to its “high-risk list” of vulnerable agencies and programs. Then in June, the Census Bureau’s director abruptly resigned without explanation. Strong leadership in the buildup to a census is vital, but the Trump administration still has not named a successor.

An inaccurate census errs in predictable ways. It leaves out the people who are hardest to count — those who aren’t at fixed addresses or simply don’t respond — a disproportionate number of whom are poor or minorities. On the other hand, whites, particularly multiple-home owners, are likely to be overcounted. Growing distrust of the government, now heightened among immigrants who fear deportation, probably will make the 2020 undercount even bigger.
The last census was considered successful — that is, the 2010 results were considered to be within an acceptable margin of error. But by the Census Bureau’s own estimates, it omitted 2.1% of African Americans, 1.5% of Latinos and nearly 5% of reservation-dwelling American Indians, while non-Latino whites were overcounted by almost 1%. The census missed about 7% of African American and Latino children 4 or younger, a rate twice as high as the overall average for young children.
Because California is the nation’s most populous state and home to a disproportionate number of the hard-to-count, it will suffer serious consequences if the margin of error, and the size of the undercount, increases. The state could be deprived of a deserved additional congressional seat, and it will lose tens of billions of dollars per year from its fair share of federally funded programs ranging from Medicaid to Head Start to highway construction. (According to the state Finance Department, this already happened in 2010; by the department’s calculations, the Census Bureau missed 1.5 million Californians, perhaps enough to deny us a new House member.)

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