The Dangers of a Shortened Census: Steven Romalewski Weighs In

August 5, 2020

The director of the CUNY Mapping Service tracks areas of the country that have low census response rates. He shares his expertise on the Census Bureau's recent decision.

The CUNY Mapping Service maps areas across the country that have low census response rates.
The CUNY Mapping Service maps areas across the country that have low census response rates.

The Census Bureau’s announcement that it was cutting four weeks off of its response-gathering timeline has sparked widespread concern about an inaccurate 2020 census. Steven Romalewski, who directs the CUNY Mapping Service, which is part of The Graduate Center’s Center for Urban Research, weighed in with observations that have been circulating among his partners.
Romalewski and his team are best known for creating the Hard-to-Count map, an interactive, online map showing areas across the country where residents respond to the census at lower rates.
He shared this response:
A successful 2020 census requires counting hard-to-count communities and effectively following up with those who didn’t respond on their own. The 2020 census is not complete without effective and thorough door-to-door outreach. This door-knocking operation, called non-response follow-up or NRFU, is critical for counting hard-to-reach communities where there are concentrations of people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, young children, rural populations, and other groups that have been historically undercounted. Rushing NRFU means that these groups, who are also disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, will miss out on critical community resources and political representation for the next 10 years.
Previously the Census Bureau said it was impossible to meet the existing reporting deadlines in the wake of the pandemic, which is why the administration requested the extension of the statutory deadlines. But now the administration has reneged on that request, and the Census Bureau has gone along with that reversal and has dramatically shortened the timeframe to finish the count.  
A rushed census shortchanges critical operations that count people of color, American Indians, people with low incomes, and people experiencing homelessness. This would skew the allocation of critical funding, Congressional representation, and redistricting for every state in the country.  
The quickest and best way to remedy this problem is for Congress to extend the statutory reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting in the next COVID relief bill, currently being negotiated in Washington.

The CUNY Mapping Service provides additional information about the potential consequences of “rushing the count” on its website.
The Census Counts 2020 team, a project of The Leadership Conference, also provides information on the latest risks to a fair and accurate census.