Challenge #1: Implications of Inadequate Census Funding

The struggle to adequately fund the 2020 Census has been closely followed by a number of outlets, including a number of posts on this website. According to the Census Project, the Trump Administration’s FY2020 funding request for the Census Bureau falls approximately $2 Billion short of what is needed to carryout the 2020 enumeration.

Below we outline some of the ramifications to date for inadequate funding for the Bureau. There are certain to be other implications moving forward, especially if the Bureau continues to be underfunded in FY2020.

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1. Cancelled testing in suburban and rural areas

  • Prior to each decennial census, the Census Bureau conducts a "dress rehearsal" to test outreach, data collection methods, and technology.  Due to reduced funding, the Bureau announced cuts to 2017 field testing in reservation lands in the Dakotas and Washington State, as well as in Puerto Rico. More recently, the Bureau announced additional cuts for 2018 field testing in West Virginia and Washington State.

  • Field testing is critical, especially for 2020, because unlike previous decennial censuses, Census 2020 will allow respondents to fill out their forms via the internet.  This decision, driven to a large degree to reduce costs of administering the census, means there will be roughly half of the field offices as in Census 2010.

2. Reduction in the number of local census offices and field staff

  • Part of the justification for fewer Area Census Offices (ACOs) and field staff is that Census 2020 will be “smarter” because of its reliance on digital technology.  These potential efficiencies, however, might be offset by various unforeseen technological challenges and other issues (e.g. proposed citizenship question).

3. Delay of the Economic Census

  • Due to low funding levels at the Bureau, funding for the 2017 Economic Census was used to support efforts to keep the 2020 Census on track. Data collection for the 2017 Census was delayed approximately 6 months when compared to the 2012 Economic Census and data releases were delayed 9 months relative to the 2012 survey.