The United States Constitution, Article I, Section 2 says “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons… The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States , and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
The Constitution also allows for counting “other Persons,” meaning slaves, as three fifths of a person – a sin enshrined into law. Constitutional amendments and federal legislation over the years have resulted in a requirement to count the whole number of people living in the respective states. The main reason for the regular census of the country’s population was and is to determine how many members of the House of Representatives will allotted to each state. That determination, along with having two senators per state, also determines the number of electoral votes each state has in the election of the president and vice president.
But there is a lot more involved than the apportionment of House members. Over the past two hundred and thirty years, as the role of the federal government grew and the amount of money spent by that government greatly expanded, the distribution of federal funds over a myriad of programs has been established to follow the census numbers. The more people a state or locality has, the more federal funds it will receive.
We are now in the final stages of completing the 2020 Census. Like many other things, the operation of the census has become entwined with the political activities of the Trump administration.
Trump and company have worked in ways that may selectively reduce population counts in certain areas of the country by attempting to revise procedures for the conduct of the census. This has included:
- Attempting to require that there be a citizenship question in the Census survey, something that has been included in some but not all past versions of the census. The Supreme Court shut down the proposal on a technicality but left no time to further adjudicate the issue before the Census process needed to start this year.
- Excluding or separating information on illegal aliens who are counted in the survey. Such individuals would not be part of the “whole Number of free persons.” A recent court decision determined that the move was illegal but the issue could still be reviewed by another court.
- Shortening the timeframe to complete the survey, ending it on September 30 rather than October 31 as originally planned, will inevitably result in lower counts. A federal court earlier this month halted the September deadline but the Bureau website still reports the September 30 target date. The abbreviated schedule would permit delivery of the results to Donald Trump by the end of December, before he leaves office if he loses the election. Interestingly, nine of the ten currently lowest reporting states are “red” states, so a change back to an October 31 deadline wound not be totally surprising.
Needless to say, the pandemic has negatively affected the collection of census data. Many people are preoccupied by important matters like keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families.
The Census Bureau regularly reports household counts by states and localities, breaking down the statistics by those who self-responded and others who were counted by census takers. Nationally, as of September 13, 65.8 percent of households have self-responded and an additional 26 percent were counted by census takers, for a total of 91.8 percent.
As of the same date, in New York State, 62.5 percent have been counted by self-reporting while 29.5 percent of households were reached by census takers for a total of 92 percent. No matter how effective the process is operated, however, New York will likely have one less member of the House of Representatives in 2022 since other states have grown faster in population than New York. The population count will affect how federal money is returned to the state for the next ten years.
The Census Bureau is also regularly reporting on localities and congressional districts throughout the country for self-responding households. In the City of Buffalo the self-response rate has been 53.2 percent so far, much lower than other localities in Western New York. In the County of Erie the self-response rate is currently at 69.9 percent. Amherst is at 78 percent; the City of Tonawanda at 77 percent.
The potential impact of a low census count in New York State and Western New York could be felt for the next ten years. There will be less money for education, health care, infrastructure, community development and other federally financed programs.
There is still some time left for those who have not completed census forms to get counted. The process can be taken care of online (www.my2020census.gov). The City of Buffalo and the County of Erie have offices set up to assist in getting people counted.
Completing the census seems like one of those dry bureaucratic activities that doesn’t rise to the level of urgency, but that is not true. For at least the next two weeks, consider it a Code Red situation.
A short limerick about a famous person who lives there in Washington
By Paul Fisk
There once was a young unloved son
Whose father had made a real ton
But he drained all the joy
From that poor little boy
Who grew to be Individual One
‘Twas a sad little family affair
That made him obsess on his hair
Neither famine nor art
Could affect his dark heart
There just was no empathy there
He could find no marital bliss
Had to pay at a booth for a kiss
He just pushed and he shoved
No chance to be cruel did he miss
By electoral fluke he was hired
But in lies and misdeeds he got mired
Got himself impeached
More lows still he reached
Time for all of us to tell him “You’re fired!”