At a time when our country battles with unprecedented health and economic challenges throughout our communities in need of every possible resource, we must consider the following question: Is the decision to shorten the 2020 census operations grossly unfair?
Imagine the same question in the real-world setting of taking an exam that will dramatically impact the next 10 years of your life. After completing the easy half of the test, the instructor abruptly shortens the time you have to finish the exam by an hour and a half when it was originally scheduled for four hours. Grossly unfair? Most of us will answer yes.
The sad reality is that an inaccurate and incomplete census will mean significantly less critical resources for New Mexico families. We must hold the federal government accountable and ask it to stick with the plan.
Recently, the Census Bureau announced the date for collecting information for the 2020 census will be reduced by a full month – from the end of October to the end of September. Regardless of political leanings, Americans agree it is critically important we have an accurate count of all people living in the United States. The shortening of census operations has politicized an issue that impacts our lives for the next decade and has fueled a greater divide within our country.
The inevitable inaccuracy that will result from the shortened time to collect data greatly concerns me as a New Mexican and especially as state auditor of New Mexico. The responsibility of the Office of the State Auditor is to oversee government expenditures while insisting on accountability and accuracy of information used for public policy decision-making, lawmaking and budgeting. Unfortunately, the current political atmosphere and divide over the census places those most vulnerable in an even more precarious position. The inevitable rush to finish the census will lead to significant undercounting and inaccurate reporting of our historically marginalized populations: people of color, indigenous communities, rural residents, low-income families and homeless populations.
A basic principle of both our federal and state constitutions is premised upon the idea the governance of citizens is accomplished through an equitable system of representation and distribution of government services. An inaccurate census is unfair, unjust and simply un-American. The annual distribution of approximately $1.5 trillion in public programs, planning by school districts and businesses, and future patterns of growth developed through applied research are all based upon census data collected only once every decade.
The last five months of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the lives of New Mexicans and a direct impact on census operations, which delayed the delivery of information, census packets and a lack of “on the ground” enumerators to over 20% of New Mexico’s population.
As of Aug. 12, the census self-response rate stands at only 63.4%; the response rate in New Mexico is significantly lower, at 53.6%. That means if the decision to shorten operations stands, New Mexico will have a lower self-response rate than in 2010 and stands to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for education, health care and roads. This injustice and lack of appropriate resources will have a negative result on our budget each and every year until the 2030 census is conducted.
The Trump administration’s attempt to count the remaining 37% – agreed upon as the most difficult households to measure: rural communities, economically challenged families, those gravely impacted by the pandemic, people of color, indigenous populations, etc. – in less than 60 days defies logic and common sense.
It is my hope the administration will take all of these factors into consideration and decide to revert its decision, allowing the census operations to continue until Oct. 31. We must take the time to get it right.
This is our once-every-10-years chance to get an accurate count and distribute much-needed funds to New Mexico’s 33 counties. The federal government should be held accountable for conducting an accurate 2020 census. You and yours deserve to be counted.