Fact check: Trump’s disdain for traditional census
WASHINGTON — In President Donald Trump’s estimation, the 2020 census will be pointless unless a question is added that asks people if they are citizens.
That opinion makes him a distinct outlier in government, business and society, where the big census conducted every 10 years produces a gold mine of information on how people live and, of course, how many there are.
Trump: “Can you believe that the Radical Left Democrats want to do our new and very important Census Report without the all important Citizenship Question. Report would be meaningless and a waste of the $Billions (ridiculous) that it costs to put together!” — tweet Monday.
The facts: Trump’s disdain for conducting the once-a-decade census without a citizenship question is not shared by his own Census Bureau researchers. Nor is it consistent with the many operations of government and business that make billions of dollars in spending decisions as well as policy decisions based on the most accurate possible count of the U.S. population.
According to January 2018 calculations by the Census Bureau, adding a citizenship question to the decennial census form would cause lower response rates among noncitizens, leading to an increased cost to the government of at least $27.5 million for additional phone calls, visits to the home and other follow-up efforts to reach them. The Constitution requires a count every 10 years of “the whole number of persons in each state,” long understood to include all residents of the U.S.
The count goes to the heart of the U.S. political system. It’s used to determine the number of seats each state has in the House and how the electoral votes that decide presidential elections are distributed.
It also shapes how 300 federal programs distribute more than $800 billion a year to local communities, according to an analysis by the GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University. Communities and businesses depend on it as well, in deciding where to build schools, hospitals, job training centers, grocery stores and more.
The GW institute’s analysis of the effects of an undercount on five programs administered by the Health and Human Services Department, for instance, found that 37 states lost a median of $1,091 in the 2015 budget year for each person missed in the 2010 census.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has argued that a citizenship question is needed — or is “very important,” as Trump puts it — to help the government better comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Justice Department has been enforcing the 1965 law, which was passed to help protect minority groups’ political rights, with citizenship data already available from other government surveys.
Meantime, civil rights groups and states with higher shares of immigrant populations such as California and New York cite a greater harm to the political rights of minority groups if a citizenship question in the decennial census dissuades immigrants from participating, resulting in diminished representation in the U.S. House.
Not since 1950 has the census collected citizenship data from the whole population.
The Supreme Court this month is hearing the Trump administration’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling in New York that Ross, whose department oversees the census, violated federal law by making an “arbitrary and capricious” decision that twisted contrary evidence. A judge in California also has ruled that a citizenship question would violate the Constitution’s requirement to count the population.
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EDITOR’S NOTE – A look at the veracity of claims by political figures