Are You a U.S. Citizen? How a 2020 Census Question Could Affect States – The New York Times

Good data rich analysis:

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced that it would add a citizenship question to the decennial census in 2020, citing the need for more granular data for determining Voting Rights Act violations. Critics say that adding the question could cause some immigrants — particularly those who are not citizens — not to respond, resulting in an undercount.

There is no reliable data to estimate how many people would opt out of the census, but a panel of experts from inside the United States Census Bureau still expressed opposition to the move, in part because of concerns about accuracy.

“Just because there is not clear evidence that adding the question would harm the census accuracy, this is not evidence that it will not,” they wrote in a memo.

About 56 percent of the nation’s 44 million immigrants are not United States citizens, and an estimated 45 percent of noncitizens are undocumented. Among those who are not citizens, undocumented immigrants have the lowest rates of participation in census surveys in general, experts say.

Accurate census counts are critical for many functions, including the disbursement of billions in federal and state dollars and the distribution of congressional seats and representation in state and local governments. At least 12 states, including New York and California, have filed lawsuits or have said they plan to sue the administration over the change.

An undercount of population could affect federal funding to states.

A recent Census Bureau report found that 132 programs used decennial census or related data to distribute more than $675 billion to states in 2015. Most of the money was related to health care, education and assistance for the poor.

Top federal assistance programs distributed using census data


A significant level of nonparticipation could affect congressional seats.

Some academics have created hypothetical scenarios to show how a reduction in participation could affect the distribution of congressional seats among states, which are determined by total residents, not just citizens.


According to Maxwell Palmer, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University, if 10 percent of Hispanic noncitizens opted out, Florida could lose one congressional seat, and Montana could gain one. In an extreme case, in which 100 percent of Hispanic noncitizens did not participate, a total of seven congressional seats could be reshuffled, with three lost by California and two by Texas, Dr. Palmer said.

Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist, warned against overstating the potential effects of the citizenship question. He said that the maximum share of noncitizens who do not respond would be 20 percent, which is not enough to trigger a huge change.

“This, as the analysis shows, would only move a couple of seats,” said Dr. Beveridge, who is also president of Social Explorer, a research site that analyzes census data.

via Are You a U.S. Citizen? How a 2020 Census Question Could Affect States – The New York Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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