Why it matters
Census funding has a direct link to how much political power more marginalized members of society have.
Since congressional seats in the House are distributed by population, our country’s intense political polarization means small differences in representation can matter quite a bit.
A census done quickly and on the cheap will tend to count easy-to-find people at the expense of those in the cracks. A very thorough census, on the other hand, picks up people who are undercounted in the first pass because they didn’t fill out their forms.
The size of the undercount has political implications. Kenneth Prewitt, director of Census Bureau during the 2000 count, cites a memo written in 1997 by the chairman of the Republican National Committee that states adjusting for the undercount “could provide Democrats the crucial edge needed to prevail in close contests.”
The official report of the last census said that blacks and Hispanics – who tend to favor Democrats – were undercounted by about 2 percent. As the report explained, this happens “because ethnic and racial minorities disproportionately live in hard-to-count circumstances.” Meanwhile, some whites were counted more than once.
Yet this was a huge improvement over 1990, when 4.4 percent of blacks were undercounted. In other words, all that extra money the government poured into the 2000 and 2010 censuses paid off in more accuracy.
What can you do?
So why does it matter who the director is? Thompson, who became director in 2013 and had been with the bureau for more than 30 years, was pushing for more funding to do a better census.
With Congress and the White House currently focused on slashing budgets, I believe the chances are high that the president will appoint and Republican senators will confirm a replacement who is happy to spend less money on a census that undercounts people who will likely vote for their political foes.
There’s something simple you can do to make sure you’re represented – which, as a matter of fact, will save the government money as well. In less than three years, the Census Bureau will begin sending out its forms in the hopes of reaching every person residing in the U.S. You can reduce government costs and ensure you have appropriate representation in Congress by simply filling out and returning the form promptly, and helping others to do the same.
As the Founding Fathers understood, the basis of democracy is fair representation. An accurate census ensures we stay true to that original goal.