The Census Bureau is mission-driven, says John H. Thompson, who headed the bureau from 2013 to 2017, and by Dec. 31, “they’ll get something” to the White House. But he says, “The quality of it remains to be seen.”
Now, Thompson’s years of service tell us two things: he was appointed by President Barack Obama and he never actually ran a big count. The Census Bureau does its crucial work every ten years, when the final zero marks a new decade – 2000, 2010, 2020.
The Census Bureau mission is simple and mandated by the Constitution: to tally everyone living in the United States. Not every citizen, but everyone present in every household census counters visit. And census takers don’t just add up numbers, they collect facts about how people live, what they do and what they need. The idea behind all that complex data is also simple, find out how governments can best serve people with what they need.
Here’s a counter-idea: the less you know about people’s needs, the less you need to serve them. It’s kind of like, the less you test people for COVID-19, the fewer cases you’ll find. The cases you don’t know about don’t go away, in fact, they sicken and die, or get better, or asymptomatically spread the Coronavirus contagion farther and longer. But, if they stay uncounted, our president seems to think, they, and the consequences they cause, don’t count.
In the case of the census, states where people go uncounted can lose representation in Congress and lose federal money for everything from family-scaled food assistance, childcare, and Medicaid, to city, county or state hospitals, schools, housing and economic development.
Because the poorer people who need those programs tend to vote Democratic, and live in cities and states run by Democrats who believe in investing heavily in such public services, Donald Trump wants his Census to – in Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn’s famous phrase – “include them out.”
It’s yet another example of how the Trump administration has politicized what are meant to be non-partisan government functions. And, it looks like it could get away with it. It is already twisting the census, as it has already crimped the postal service, to help Trump’s reelection and cement his legacy as the father of the Radical Right version of the Republican Party.
Julia Sclafani joined Searchlight to cover health as a grant-funded Report for America Fellow. A California Native, Julia comes to New Mexico by way of the Daily Pilot, a Los Angeles Times community publication in Orange County, CA, where she covered breaking news, courts and city beats. Julia holds degrees from Columbia University and City University of New York’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.