Counting is one of the most basic ways we make sense of our world. We may start off counting fingers and toes, then move on to more interesting topics—like creepy crawlies on the playground and crayons in the classroom. As we get older, we use counting for more complex problems, like how many slices of pizza are left, and more importantly, can I eat them?
Pizza problems aside, we know counting has some pretty important uses. It’s why there’s a whole federal agency responsible for counting the people of our country. The U.S. Census Bureau is tasked with providing data that helps us count our kids and identify the needs of communities across Michigan.
Many of our Kids Count indicators come to us from the census via the American Community Survey, or ACS for short. Last month I attended the annual American Community Survey Data Users Conference. While the average person might not find a data conference riveting, I found some key takeaways every person concerned about our access to information should know:
- Data will be released later than usual this year. Due to the government shutdown, the 2018 ACS release is being pushed back. The single-year estimates will be available September 26, and the five-year estimates will be released on December 19.
- There’s a new website to get data. Starting this summer, there will be no new data releases on American FactFinder, the current tool for ACS data. All new data will be released on Census.Gov, which you can access now. Updates will continue to be made as the rollout continues and feedback from users is highly encouraged. American FactFinder will be retired in 2020.
- The Bureau is changing its methods for disclosure, threatening the availability of data. Census officials told attendees that the privacy methods for census data need to be updated to prevent against potential attacks. The Bureau intends to implement changes but has not informed the public about the impacts. Attendees expressed concern at a recent announcement that under the new methods children may no longer be able to be linked to households—potentially removing entire tables advocates rely on like the number of children in one-parent households and the number of children living in households where English is not spoken at home. Census 2020 will be the first data set affected, with ACS to follow. Right now, users and the public remain in the dark about the effects of these changes.
- The citizenship question planned for the 2020 census is untested and will likely lead to a massive undercount. If allowed on the 2020 census by the Supreme Court, the untested citizenship question will make the already-existent undercounts of the Latinx/Hispanic population, immigrants, and young children much worse.
On the second day of the conference, one theme stood out: the Census Bureau is working to get more feedback from users, but better two-way communication and input is needed. The shaky roll-out of the new website, as well as the mystery around potential changes to data disclosure, highlighted where transparency and meaningful community involvement is lacking.
The citizenship question poses a big dilemma for the Bureau—that the Trump administration fully intends to ignore all opposition to the question. Despite outcry from users, professionals, and community groups, the Trump administration is trying to muscle the question on to the form. New evidence further reveals the partisan motivations behind the question, and it is for these reasons that federal judges have ruled the question illegal. If allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the question will threaten the integrity of the census as a way to count all people in our country.
We need to make sure we have access to the most accurate information about our communities and that the agency tasked with this mission is working for all of us. We encourage you to join us and sign on to an open letter asking the Census Bureau to be transparent and work with users through the proposed privacy changes. We continue to oppose the citizenship question and hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision.
The Census 2020 is less than a year away. Whether or not a citizenship question is included, census data will determine funding for more than 300 programs ranging from food assistance to Medicaid to tax credit zones. Voting districts will be also be drawn based on census numbers. That’s why a complete count is critical to Michigan’s future. Please join efforts across the state to prepare for 2020 now.