Shortened deadline for 2020 Census, COVID-19 causes challenges in acquiring accurate population count, experts say

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Photo Credit: Alejandra Gavilanes | Daily Texan Staff

Ezequiel Lozano, a chemistry and public health sophomore, says he has been the only person canvassing neighborhoods in his hometown of Coolidge, Texas to ask people to take the 2020 census questionnaire. 

“I found excitement in the way I can contribute in shaping the future of not only myself, but my family, colleagues, friends and every citizen within the United States,” Lozano said. 

The U.S. Census Bureau will end field data collection and self-response options for the 2020 census count on Sept. 30, instead of the Oct. 31 date that the deadline was originally extended to in response to the pandemic. According to the Bureau’s press release, this change was so that states’ population counts would be submitted on time to the president by Dec. 31.

Jeremi Suri, a history and public policy professor, said the shortened deadline will make the census less accurate because census takers have less time to collect important information.

“If residents of the U.S. are not counted for whatever reason, that means that they will be underrepresented in Congress and in their state legislature …  they will not get the federal aid for their schools and their communities,” Suri said. “There's a long history of undercounting groups as a way of disenfranchising and discriminating against people.”

As per census rules, students living on-campus in college dormitories are counted as a part of the Census Bureau’s Group Quarter Operation, which also is used to count those in nursing homes, group homes and prisons. 

Students living off-campus should count their residence on census forms as “where they live and sleep most of the time.” Students should be counted at school even if they are living elsewhere due to the pandemic, according to the census rules. Students can still complete the census form online at my2020census.gov

 

On July 21, President Trump issued a memo stating undocumented residents should not be counted in the 2020 census which will be used to reapportion representatives. According to the Bureau’s website, the census counts the total resident population, including citizens and non-citizens. Information gathered “cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court” under Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Lozano said towns with a large Hispanic and undocumented population will likely be undercounted because of the memo. 

“They believe that this decision has a stigma where, ‘If I give out my information, then possibly this is going to be shared with the immigration customs,’” Lozano said. “(Some people) refused to even give me their information, although it was going to be confidential.”

Julia Zorzanello Byron, a leader of the Austin LGBTQI+ Census Committee, said the COVID-19 pandemic and new deadline have been a “cosmic misfortune” for marginalized groups because it may undermine their representation.

“The fact that (the census) will have that impact and undermine those communities for 10 years — a whole decade — is unforgivable, really,” Byron said.