Issue #10: 2020 Census Undercount

A new Census question may lead to significant shortages in funding for critical programs.

The big picture: The U.S. Constitution requires a census (count) of the U.S. population every 10 years; the next census is fast approaching in 2020. The federal government and many states use census data to allocate funding for various programs and services, so the accuracy and comprehensiveness of this data has very real implications for millions of people.

On the horizon: In 2018, the Trump administration proposed adding a question about immigration status to the 2020 Census questionnaire. The proposed rule has raised concerns among advocates that immigrant children will be undercounted because their families are afraid to complete the survey out of fear of deportation. The census drives funding allocations for many programs that serve children and families, including ones provided in schools. Undercounting (which is already a serious problem among young children) could lead to insufficient funding for programs and services critical to children’s health and development, such as Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Like Issue #9, the undercount will lead to fewer federal dollars being allocated, leaving states and local communities to fill the unchanged need. This has implications not only for immigrant children, but for all children who rely on these programs across the country. The U.S. Department of Justice, which requested the addition of this question, argued this information is necessary to protect against discrimination in voting. There are strong feelings (and arguments) on both sides of the debate.

A number of states, cities, and advocacy organizations sued the federal government in response to the census proposal; the case is still underway and may reach the U.S. Supreme Court before the Census takes place in 2020. This issue will impact a variety of issues we care about, and we will track what happens in 2019.