Story at a glance
- The coronavirus pandemic delayed the census, which is taken every 10 years and determines political representation.
- The Trump administration rushed the Census Bureau to complete the count, increasing the risk that some populations were left out.
- The Bureau is preparing to release the counts, which will set into motion the apportionment of seats in the lower chamber of Congress.
It will be another decade before the United States will take another census, one that is likely to be defined by the long-lasting consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Today, the Census Bureau is expected to deliver the state population counts used to calculate how many of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives will go to each state.
On the local level, the Bureau is expected to send redistricting counts to all 50 states, which will redraw — and in some cases gerrymander for political influence — legislative districts based on this data. The process is likely to be fraught with political battles, and RepresentUs reported 35 states are at extreme or high risk of partisan gerrymandering.
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In either case, Indigenous and other non-white populations have historically been undercounted in the census and therefore underrepresented in government. In addition to legislative districts, the census is also used in distributing federal funding and national resources during emergencies, including the current pandemic.
But COVID-19 halted data collection efforts in April, which are especially necessary for remote and underprivileged populations that would otherwise not be able to access the census. Then, the Trump administration ended collection efforts one month earlier than previously planned and asked for by the agency, putting Black, Indigenous and other communities of color at a disadvantage.
“Having helped to plan, execute or lead five decennial censuses serving nine Presidents of both parties, our expert opinion is that failing to extend the deadlines to April 30, 2021 will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” said four former directors of the Census Bureau, Vincent Barabba, Kenneth Prewitt, Robert Groves and John Thompson, in a statement. “The end result will be under-representation of those persons that [Nonresponse Followup operation] was expected to reach and, at even greater rates for the traditionally hard-to-count populations with potentially extreme differential undercounts.”
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