Census Director Departs

The resignation of the Census Director, in charge since 2013, points to deep concerns for the 2020 Census under Trump.

On May 9, 2017, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, John H. Thompson, tendered his resignation. According to U.S. Census web site, Thompson’s biography notes that he had been picked to “oversee preparations for the 2020 Census.” With just three years to go and a serious shortfall in funding for 2020 Census programs, Thompson, a 30 year government employee, made his move. Why now?

In his resignation statement he said he “plans to pursue opportunities in the private sector.”

Thompson is a statistician and an executive. My hunch is he applied an advanced algorithm to statistically determine the success or failure of the 2020 Census. If you account for factors such as congressional voting records over the last eight years, the abilities of Trump’s cabinet to get work done rather than dismantling the agencies to which they have been appointed, some additional problems outlined below and the likelihood of a personal twitter attack from Trump, the outlook for the 2020 Census looks dismal. But the outlook for the Director of the 2020 Census is Kobayashi Maru.

It is statistically likely that Thomas calculated NOW is the best time to get out.

CENSUS OBSTACLES

Let history not repeat itself.

In the 1941 Second War Powers Act, legal protections for confidential census data were repealed. This is a very important protection for people who are asked to self-identify on official U.S. Government Census forms. The FBI then compiled U.S. Census data to identify and intern over 100,000 Japanese Americans. About 15,000 Italian and German Americans were also interned. The confidentiality protections were restored in 1947, but this has not stopped racially and politically motivated actors from testing the protections. In 1980, FBI agents again tried to seize Census data.

Today, we have a President who obstinately defends immigration orders that specifically target the American-Muslim community. The White House wants to include an immigration status question in the long-form U.S. Census. Hackles raised I quote:

    If the Census Bureau included an immigration-related question on the ACS but not on the census itself, it would raise questions about whether the White House intends to use the information collected on both the ACS and census to track down and deport undocumented immigrants.

Trump does not have the best relationship with the FBI or any of the U.S. investigative agencies at the moment. But he is the Commander in Chief. How far will Trump go to get Census information? One can guess. Thomas probably has the statistics.

Now in charge of the United States Justice Department, the racially divisive Jeff Sessions is doubling down on punitive law enforcement measures. He is resurrecting the failed “War on Drugs” and promoting stricter sentences in criminal cases which have historically targeted minority communities. Draconian law enforcement practices have caused generations of families to live in poverty and without fathers. Sessions rolled back the Obama order to stop federal funding for for-profit prisons. The money spigot is open again. What better way to fill up those prisons than with targeted census data.

By the job description, the person at the head of the Census effort will be complicit in identifying people who this administration has already begun to target. Someone in Nazi Germany had to count the Jews and schedule the trains. The sword is double-edged. If the Census succeeds, you hand over this rich data trove to corrupt politicians whom you cannot trust. If the Census fails, you’re a political piñata. Thomas likely predicted both possibilities would be the crowning glory of his career if he stuck around.

Today in America, it’s just not a good time to be a Civil Servant.

CENSUS BATTLEGROUNDS:

LGBTQ groups are fighting to be recognized on the new long-form Census. Middle eastern groups are fighting to not be recognized.

Choosing battles is important.

This country is a few steps away from despotism. The latest straw on the scales was the firing of FBI Director, James Comey. In his interview with Lester Holt, Trump admitted that the firing was explicitly for the purpose of impeding the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. The “despot to be” doesn’t seem to understand that foreign interference in American Democracy does not make America Great. We went from Jersey Shore to Klepto-Idiocracy in less than a decade. The orange man brought it. It’s still a reality TV show only, now, the stakes are a whole lot higher.

The U.S. Constitution does not require counting religious or political affiliations. It does not require a DNA based assessment of race and ethnicity that, for the most part, are social constructs which emerged less than 500 years ago. The Constitution does not even treat all people as whole, counting “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

LGBTQ’s should be especially wary. The Census records self-identifying personal information. Dictators tend to single out individuals or groups for oppression. AG Sessions knows what he is doing by reviving the War on Drugs. He is making sure that the for-profit, private prison industry continues to be a profitable venture for its investors and his supporters. Identifying as LGBTQ could derail the whole progressive self-identification movement with a drastic curtailment of liberties. I hesitate to think that even more severe and harsh retribution could come from a ruling class devoid of moral or ethical values like Trump himself.

Middle eastern identification is also problematic. Currently, the concept of “white” or “Caucasian” includes original peoples of the Middle East or North Africa (MENA). “It includes people who indicate their race as “White” or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.” Self identification has many positive uses; such as for voter protections, English as a Second Language programs in schools and housing discrimination reports.

However, we must remain keenly aware that Islamophobic groups have tripled under the regime that Trump is promoting today. Some of those groups are heavily armed and are actively training against a hostile takeover of “Christian America.” Trump, the voter-fraud in chief, has just appointed Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU calls “King of Voter Suppression,” to lead a voter fraud commission.

Minority self-identification should not be a cause for fear; but it is.

I don’t have the answer, but I would say that the LGBTQ and MENA battle plans should be re-strategized in the light of current events.

THE CENSUS BUDGET

In 2010, the Census cost U.S. taxpayers more than any other census in American history. At over $12 billion, the 2010 U.S. Census cost about $42 per person. China did it for $1 and India did it for $0.40 cents. The GOP is hopping mad that projections for the 2020 U.S. Census could top $90 per capita.

Oh, and did I mention that Congress has determined that the 2020 U.S. Census should not exceed the $12B funding limit of the 2010 U.S. Census?

CENSUS PREPARATIONS:

In 2010, the Census Bureau successfully hired more than 630,000 workers from 12 regional and 343 local census offices at a time when unemployment in the U.S. was 9.5%. A very large number of those hires came from people laid off by the economic crash of 2008; an economy driven by “light-touch regulations,” as FCC Chair Ajit Pai likes to say.

After the 2008 crash and under the umbrella of the Obama recovery, Thomas was appointed to perform a similar task for the 2020 Census. New challenges for Thomas’ would include an unprecedented number of technological changes including the rise of cell phones, the fragmentation of social media, bubble mentality, fake news and hackers.

Today, the economy is humming along and unemployment is below 4.5%. But, funding to establish the the offices needed to hire the recruiters who would hire the Census Bureau staff was stalled during Obama’s lame duck session. For six years, the Just-Say-NO GOP refused to get any legislating done. They barely passed a continuing resolution for FY2017 that would only fund government operations at FY2016 levels.

The budget for FY2017 was fraught with high profile poison pills like defunding Planned Parenthood and abortion restrictions. Trump himself called for shutting down the U.S. government. The 2020 Census was a low-profile, low-priority issue. The hyper-partisan FY2017 Congressional Budget was finally passed on May 4, 2017. This budget barely increased funding for the 2020 Census ramping up efforts.

The GOP defiantly trumpeted that the 2020 Census budget was increased by $100 million. But–you guessed it–the GOP talking point is a lie. The Census budget request was an increase of $270 million. That means the 2020 Census is underfunded $170 million just when it needs to begin to build out its offices to recruit Census workers.

Trump’s 2018 budget is set to squeeze all vestiges of science and math from every government agency.

Historically, the Census requires foot workers to track down poor people who move frequently. In a planned money-saving move, the Census Bureau was supposed to use records from other government agencies, such as the IRS and the Social Security Administration, to update its address data and cut the number of foot workers needed.

Also to save money, the technological update includes the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a new internet-based, long-form Census. It is supposed to be launched in FY2018 and is intended to reduce the amount of work required of field workers in 2020. However, development efforts for the online questionnaire have been stymied by the fast pace of internet technology and the critical lack of funding.

When the actual budget for these technological solutions increased by over 50% from 2013 to present, GOP legislators refused to give up a single additional dollar. The ACS is now raising grave new cybersecurity issues. This week’s world-wide cyber-attacks from the recently released NSA data breach should raise serious alarms that the online Census effort may be doomed before it even starts.

If all these Census preparation issues are not resolved, the 2020 Census will require far more foot soldiers to canvass neighborhoods and knock on doors. That $90 per capita the GOP is screaming about now is just the preface in an American horror novel.

Personally, I don’t wonder why Thompson quit. All the data points to a huge threat of a massive undercount.

SAME CENSUS DATA, DIFFERING WORLDVIEWS

Democrats are waking up to the unpleasant details of the new world order under Trump.

The White House is in a cloud of denial. Science, rational thought and even math are under attack. Even if one was to make a winning pitch directly to Trump regarding the importance of the U.S. Census, it would soon be drowned out by the right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists who control his thoughts.

White House budget office spokesperson, Coalter Baker said recently, “The increase proposed in the budget blueprint provides adequate funding for the Census Bureau to support IT system investments to conduct a modernized decennial census in 2020.” A quote worthy of a bubble in an Alt-Right comic strip.

The benefits to society of in-depth census data is not a song that would make an orange man dance. Perhaps, he would respond if we could show that the census data is the key to improve his show’s ratings.

To Congressional Republicans, an imperfect Census is the perfect way to suppress voters, to skew facts, and to make their own reality. They can show that trickle-down economics does work, higher prison rates improve your safety, fewer illegal immigrants mean fewer bad hombres on your streets, the government intrudes into personal lives more than ever and the Census Bureau is just another broken federal bureaucracy.

The GOP have a vested interest in seeing the 2020 Census fail.

For us, it takes a lot of imagination to perceive, much less than to believe in that worldview. But even “Thompson testified to a House committee last week that the 2020 Census was on track.” What a calculating man, careful not to burn bridges.

So begins the white-washing of the greatest, the most accurate, the most superlative Census of all time.

RAISING THE ALARM:

Ken Poole, Executive Director of The Association of Public Data Users (ADPU), wrote a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on March 16, 2017. He expresses politely,

    We are concerned that a lack of appreciation for the critical importance of our Federal statistical and data systems may worsen, and are worried that, after years of insufficient funding, these systems face deeper funding cuts and further marginalization.

Poole’s letter is a quick, three-page analysis of the benefits to society from an accurate census. The decennial census is not just apportionment and redistricting. It’s evidence based decision making, targeting of limited resources, and designing programs for housing, health, education, economic development, transportation, and criminal justice.

Poole includes 25 pages of signatories. These are the people who rely on Census data to inform politicians who make policy decisions all across our great nation. If the Census fails, we all lose.

APRIL 2, 2020

In a far Northern corner of a Canadian village, he sits in his breakfast nook feeling the gentle, warm glow of solar rays heating up his planet. Former Director Thomas may look up from the headlines of his illegal and now banned copy of his imported New York Times, take a sip of his hot brewed coffee smuggled from Mexico to avoid the high tariffs of the debased U.S. capitalistic system, look with a reflective gaze towards the horizon and barely murmur the words, “I thought so.”

RESIST!

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USEFULL LINKS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

Politico: Trump’s threat to the 2020 Census
Time: Census Director Abruptly Quits
Thompson Bio
The Atlantic: Why Did the U.S. Census Director Resign?
NPR: For Some Americans Of MENA Descent, Checking A Census Box Is Complicated
The Daredevils Without Landlines — And Why Health Experts Are Tracking Them
WP Census watchers warn of a crisis
APDU: Help Support Federal Data
ADPU: Letter to Appropriations Committee
Densho: German and Italian detainees
Kris Kobach, the ‘King of Voter Suppression,’

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