The once-a-decade census is the "largest civic action undertaken by the entire country," providing data that "affects every corner of America, determining where hundreds of billions of federal dollars flow annually, where businesses open new stores and which states gain—or lose—seats in the House of Representatives."
Without a high-quality census, America has no way to make good plans — and crucially, has no objective way of evaluating self-serving policies that benefit the donor class — and it's under threat. Trump's cuts and chaos has left the census gravely behind schedule on the three-year ramp up to the counting of every person in the nation, and Trump's racist policies may scare millions of migrants and people of color away from participating in an exercise that gives their intimate personal relationship to the federal government.
The cuts mean that this year will mark the first-ever Census that participants can complete online, and they also mean that the information security practices to protect this data are also lagging, presenting a grave risk to the entire nation, should the raw data leak and get dumped online — a kind of OPM breach on steroids.
Attacks on the census are common to dictatorial leaders who want to make policies in an information vacuum — in 2011, PM Stephen Harper gutted Canada's census, in a move that was part-and-parcel of his administration's broad attacks on evidence of all kinds, especially climate science. When you're making policies that destroy the country and benefit you and your friends, you can't afford to have good facts in hand.
What's more, the changing demographics of America — that is, the increasing numbers of racialized people who are entitled to vote — are a threat to the Republican party (an assessment that the GOP itself agrees with). Tampering with the census will give Trump the power to reward loyal partisans in the GOP with gerrymandered, safe districts by suppressing brown peoples' votes through reapportionment.
The White House rejected that critique, and says the Census Bureau has the money it needs to build out its systems now. "The increase proposed in the budget blueprint provides adequate funding for the Census Bureau to support IT system investments to conduct a modernized decennial census in 2020," said Coalter Baker, a spokesperson for the White House budget office.
The census is one of the most impressive attempts any country makes to count its own people, a crucial building block for the world's largest economy that informs important business decisions, such as where to open a new store or whether a state is a good place to invest. "Our census data provides a level of transparency for our economy that gives our country a competitive edge over other countries, and a failed census puts that at risk," said a former congressional staffer who worked on census issues. "It all starts with statistics."
"That's the gold standard," said Ken Fears, an economist at the National Association of Realtors, which produces a monthly housing report that uses census data for its baseline. "If the gold standard becomes silver, you have a problem."
Trump's threat to the 2020 Census
[Danny Vink/The Agenda]