Washington, D.C. — The census is the primary source of data on the American people. It determines how individuals are represented in Congress and state legislatures, and how federal funding is allocated, and it guides countless important decisions made by businesses and local governments. But this year, after unheard-of levels of political interference from the Trump administration, the census is in trouble.
That’s a serious problem for the agenda of the incoming Biden-Harris administration. As experts from CAP attest below, the census is vital to each of the next administration’s top priorities: responding to COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.
Although it’s not clear how flawed the data from the 2020 census may be, it is clear, as explained in a new issue brief by the Center for American Progress, that the incoming administration is going to need to take immediate action to ensure that the data is fit for use—and that the future of the census is secure.
It is also critical for Congress to immediately extend the deadlines for delivery of census data by passing the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act. Regardless of whether Congress takes action, the new administration will not be able to confidently track progress on its key priorities unless it ensures that the census is accurate.
“Across all of the important issues that we work on at the Center for American Progress, there is a recognition that the census matters,” said Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for External Affairs at CAP. “Like the Biden-Harris administration, we care about progress, and you can only make progress – and measure progress – with a fair and accurate census.”
“Accurate census data are essential to developing a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan,” said Maura Calsyn, managing director of Health Policy at CAP. “For example, census data help identify areas with large at-risk populations. This information can, in turn, inform decisions as how to effectively distribute tens of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine, a critical step to save lives and invigorate our economy.”
“If we want to effectively raise wages, bring back jobs, and lift people out of poverty, we need to have good information on where to target economic recovery measures—and that starts with the census,” said Andres Vinelli, vice president for economic policy at CAP. “Businesses and local governments rely on census data to make decisions about investments, job creation, and economic development. Without high-quality census data, the economy suffers.”
“Census data that undercounts communities of color increases racial inequities, by giving those communities less than their fair share of representation and federal funding,” said Sam Fulwood III, senior fellow and interim vice president for Race and Ethnicity at CAP. “Ensuring that census data fully accounts for communities of color is important way to advance racial equity and is essential to tracking progress on issues linked to racial justice.”
“Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the United States, and it is also an issue where data really matters,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for Energy and Environment Policy at CAP. “We need to ensure that people of all communities see the benefits of climate action, and we can only do that if we have accurate and complete data from the census.”
Read the issue brief: “How the Biden Administration Can Save the Census,” by Alex Tausanovitch.