The 2020 Census Is Still Problematic—Even Without the Citizenship Question: raceAhead

August 20, 2019, 7:23 PM UTC

Hi everyone! Fortune commentary editor Tamara El-Waylly here, covering for Ellen for a few days.

As Census Bureau workers start to canvas the streets this month to verify home addresses in preparation for the 2020 census, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris would like to remind us that the Trump Administration’s “campaign of terror” against immigrant communities may skew the upcoming census results. 

“When that census-taker comes knocking at that door, they’re not going to answer the door,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

After ICE raids of Mississippi processing plants that led to 680 arrests, and general anti-immigration policies by the Trump Administration, Harris may have a point. 

The attempt to include a citizenship question in the upcoming census also did its own amount of damage, even though it ultimately failed (and not for lack of trying). “The public controversy over the issue has already stirred fears of retribution among many immigrants, who say they will avoid filling out the census form even if the question is not asked,” reports the New York Times.

A significant miscount would create a flawed population picture of the U.S. today—and there are many reasons to be concerned about that. The census impacts everything from how seats are apportioned in the U.S. House of Representatives, to redistricting, to federal funding for state programs.

It goes beyond the political: The demographic details offered by the census affect decisions by the private sector too. Companies use census data when considering investment opportunities in communities, evaluating possible markets, and assessing customer demand, among other determinations. 

And the 2020 census could be one of the worst undercounts since 1990. Projections by the Urban Institute estimate that around 3.68% of black people and 3.57% of Latinx people could be missed. That’s about 1.7 million and 2.2 million people, respectively.

“An inaccurate census would exacerbate systemic inequities for people of color and people with low incomes,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, told Newsweek. She also pointed out that “privileged communities,” like those with multiple homes, might be counted more than once. 

Granted, the census has long been political. At the start of Jim Crow, for instance, the survey was used to determine African heritage—to uphold a racist structure that would deny black people citizenship. From 1850 to 1950, the census asked for place of birth and naturalization status, writes Shom Mazumder, a PhD candidate at Harvard University, for the Washington Post, “in response to congressional and public demand for tracking the entrance of ‘desirable’ races.” And, in 2004, the Census Bureau handed the Department of Homeland Security data about Arab-Americans, such as tabulations of the number of people aggregated by zip code.

Obtaining population data is difficult to begin with, and demographic shifts and access to certain populations (such as the homeless) complicate matters. The Census Bureau does make attempts at a more accurate count, like multiple in-person visits to households that don’t respond to the physical survey. There’s also been a push to have respondents use online surveys, largely to cut costs, but it’s increased concerns about technical vulnerabilities

And, certainly, the current political climate isn’t going to help get more responses.

On Point

Calling out ‘corporate America’ In this profile by Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, details the “beef” he has with business leaders and companies taking on more social responsibility. It’s “how” they do it. They’re willing to pursue more of a social purpose as long as it’s still “win-win,” and the people benefiting are the same ones who claim to be fixing society’s problems, he says. Read more for a fascinating look at “the insider who bites the hand that feeds him.” Fortune

In Thailand, inequality translates into traffic fatalities For many families in Thailand, a country with one of the largest inequality gaps, a proper helmet is “a luxury,” the New York Times reports. And for poorer families, the most they can afford is a motorcycle or scooter. It’s a stark contrast to the larger, more sturdy vehicles that the wealthier can afford—and a problem for a country with an incredibly high number of traffic fatalities. In 2018, there were 22,491 road fatalities. While the country does have laws in place (with the wealthier held less accountable), and the government has vowed to lessen the fatalities, the unaddressed issue is the wealth gap. And in many cases of traffic fatalities, the more-affected lower-income population can’t afford to pursue legal action. New York Times

On Background

Many cancer drug trials lack data on race Clearly, there’s a problem when it comes to both reporting and representation in these trials, and it’s very much at odds with the breakdown of cancer patients. Around a third of cancer drug clinical trials didn’t include data on race, according to a recent study. And for the trials that did include race, black and Latinx participants were extremely underrepresented. Of the 230 trials for (now-approved) drugs the study reviewed, white and Asian patients made up 76% and 18% of the participants, respectively. "Hispanic" patients were 6% of participants, and black patients, 3%. It's a problem that's long persisted, Dr. Kanwal Raghav, one of the study’s authors, says. STAT

Apparently, the public charge rule applies to veterans too ProPublica is reporting that Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) officials “declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families” from the new regulation that targets immigrants who use (or might use) public benefits. On the other hand, the Department of Defense (DOD) worked with the Department of Homeland Security to “minimize” the rule’s effect on active-duty members and their families. As a result, come October, when it goes into effect, the rule will “appl[y] just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public." While it's unclear why the VA didn't step in like the DOD, to Jeremy Butler, chief executive officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, it seems like "the time and attention and research necessary" to determine how this would "affect the veteran community" was lacking.  ProPublica


“We have been smeared by political rhetoric and murdered in violent hate crimes. We have been separated from our families and have watched our children caged. We have been targeted with mass shootings and mass ICE raids meant to terrify us, squash our hope, and break our spirits. But, we will not be broken.” 

—America Ferrera, Diane Guerrero, Eva Longoria, Alex Martinez Kondracke, Mónica Ramírez, and Olga Segura, the writers and organizers of the “Querida Familia” letter, which was signed by over 200 Latinx leaders.

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