2020 Census Latinx
An envelope containing a 2018 census test letter. Associated Press photo by Michelle R. Smith.

Equal Voice

Census 2020: The Public Can Weigh In On the Citizenship Question

July 24, 2018

Laura Boyle
By Laura Boyle
Director of Communications and Human Resources
Co-Authored By
Paul Nyhan Manager of Storytelling

The public can comment on a plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The comment period ends Aug. 7, 2018.  

Let your voice be heard. The Census Bureau is inviting the public to comment on the addition of a new citizenship question to the 2020 Census. You can share your thoughts until Aug. 7th.

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross asked the Census Department to put a question about citizenship in the 2020 census, after that idea was recommended by the Justice Department. The decision has sparked lawsuits and outrage from groups, who say adding the citizenship question could lower response rates and result in undercounting among the country’s vulnerable populations, including immigrants and families living in poverty.

This new question threatens the accuracy of the census because it would discourage responses from historically undercounted communities, such as Black, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and low-income communities, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. In the U.S., 40.6 million Americans live in poverty, and about a third – or 13.3 million – are kids, the Census Bureau reported last year. The Trump administration has argued that the question is routine, and would help collect data to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

There is a lot at stake in the decennial census. If it is flawed or underreported that could jeopardize representation in the drawing of political districts, and how hundreds of billions of federal dollars are distributed to communities.

“Everyone relies on census data. Census data are the basis for fair political representation. Local community leaders use this data to make decisions about allocating resources for community needs like education, assistance for veterans, hospitals, and transportation. Businesses and entrepreneurs use census data to make critical decisions about where to locate plants and stores, hiring, and customer need,” The Leadership Conference Education Fund added.

Put another way, when the census under-counts groups, those groups are systematically shortchanged. Since census data are used to work out where people of varying ethnic and national backgrounds live, getting the census right is also vital for a fair enforcement of civil rights laws, ranging from protecting equal access to housing through to education investments and desegregation of public schools.

And the citizenship question is one of at least several concerns as the federal government prepares for Census 2020, including fears over insufficient funding and preparation.

Now it’s the public’s turn to share their thoughts and comments about whether the citizenship question is a good idea. You can submit comments here.

“It is important to establish a strong, clear public record from a range of stakeholders and experts who oppose addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. That record could be helpful to litigators challenging the citizenship question in court and to convey public sentiment.”

The public comment period closes next month on Aug. 7.

              This report contains material from the Associated Press. Marguerite Casey Foundation content editor Brad Wong contributed to this report, which also includes material from Equal Voice contributors Sasha Abramsky and Katherine Reynolds Lewis.


Census 2020: The Public Can Weigh In On the Citizenship Question