This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Will the Citizenship Question Wind Up on the 2020 Census Form?

A few days ago it seemed as though Congress might pass legislation that would effectively block the addition of a question on citizenship being placed on the 2020 Census form in the U.S. Well, not so fast, as it turns out. Last night the Commerce Department issued a memorandum from Secretary Wilbur Ross directing the Census Bureau to put the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. He says that this has to be done by March 31st--and of course Congress is out on recess until after that date. 

The memo seemingly lays out a clear case for why the citizenship should be on the questionnaire. Similar questions have been asked on the 100% form in the past, although not since the 1950 census (70 years prior to the 2020 census!). Since then they have only been on the long-form which was asked of a sample or, more recently, on the American Community Survey. The argument is made that this is enough to get around the idea that this is a "new question" that might need three years to prepare. The memo also notes that no one can really say how this question will affect the response rate. You and I might answer that this is good enough reason to test it out before putting it on the survey. Ross argues that this uncertainty tells us that it is OK to put it on the census, because we don't know how people will respond!

Most importantly, the whole motivation for wanting this question on the census is a request from the Department of Justice to help it in "determining violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act ("VRA"), and having these data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the Act. Section 2 protects minority population voting rights." Well, let's see--that Act was first passed by Congress in 1965 and while it has been regularly amended by Congress, it is hard to know why all of a sudden it is so important to have these data. Oh, that's right. That's not really why they want the question on the census...

Remember that the Constitutional mandate for the census is to count the total number of people so that Congressional Districts can be drawn in a way that includes essentially the same number of people (regardless of whether or not they are voters), so that the number of constituents served by each member of the House of Representatives is the same. If the citizenship question winds up discouraging people--especially undocumented immigrants--from responding to the census, the states with larger fractions of such people--including especially California and Texas--will be affected and might lose one or more seats in Congress.

On that score, we learned this morning that California has sued the Trump administration over the addition of the citizenship question. A battle looms.

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