When people talk about the threat that Donald Trump poses to the U.S., they generally talk about things like education, the environment, consumers, workers, immigrants, minorities, and so on. His “Make America Great Again” slogan is nothing more than hot air, and anybody who’s been paying attention knows it. But there’s one absolutely vital government function that Trump threatens that nobody’s talking about. It’s a safe bet that most of us actually haven’t even thought of it, despite his warning to federal agencies to prepare for massive budget cuts.
It’s the U.S. Census. And the Census is something we need. Population counts determine the number of U.S. Representatives a state gets, and they also determine how the states’ districts get redrawn. Even states with independent commissions depend on the Census to know how best to draw district lines.
Census data is also used for federal programs affecting things like education, veterans’ services, rural development, transportation, housing and more. The Census determines the allocation of funding for the following:
- Enforcing civil rights laws in the workplace
- Food stamps
- Section 8 housing
- National school lunch program (but the GOP thinks kids don’t need to eat so who cares)
- State children’s insurance programs
- Unemployment benefits
- The Workplace Investment Act (which helps unemployed people find jobs)
- Native American Employment and Training
- Prisoner re-entry programs
- Job training
- Funding for small business programs
- Drug-free schools programs
- Title I grants to help schools help disadvantaged children
- Special Ed
- The Voting Rights Act
- Help to the states for administering Social Security, SSI, Medicare and Medicaid
- Funding for the disabled
And so much more, including in the private sector – businesses can use Census data to determine everything from optimal location to understanding both the local labor force and the local consumer population. Of course, most of this is stuff that the Trump administration and the Republican Party see as wastes anyway, but they’ll be hard-pressed to actually cut funding for all of this in a budget without facing massive backlash.
Hmm. Now that we’re thinking about it, maybe sabotaging the Census would be their way of gutting all these programs.
That list, while a ton, isn’t all. There’s also what Trump’s stance on immigration could do. ICE has been sweeping cities for undocumented immigrants, even targeting courthouses as immigrants show up for hearings and appointments about pretty much everything. In fact, a judge in Washington State reported hearing that undocumented immigrants are missing court dates, even if they were seeking a protective order against an abuser.
We have the growing hate and fear of Muslims to contend with, too – while they aren’t being arrested and deported (yet), they could worry that answering the Census will expose sensitive information and make them more vulnerable to harassment and attack.
For these reasons, immigrants and other minorities may find themselves far less willing to participate in the 2020 Census. And in communities that have high immigrant and/or minority populations, that could result in bad undercounts. Undercounts that are bad enough could result in districts, especially those that are done by independent commissions, being inadvertently redrawn in ways that don’t accurately represent the states’ populations.
It could also result in impoverished, high-immigrant communities seeing necessary federal dollars drain away from programs they depend on.
Now, okay, the Census is still three years away. But Trump’s funding cuts have already forced them to scrap plans for some new field offices that would help the Census go more smoothly, and has also forced them to cancel the dry runs they do every decade in the run-up to the actual Census. That tells us that just conducting the 2020 Census is very likely to be problematic.
They’re asking us to do it online this year (partly as a cost-cutting measure, because of course), which raises cybersecurity concerns and could exacerbate immigrants’ and minorities’ fears of having ICE come knock at their door, or having asshat racists attack and/or harass them. Following hacks courtesy of everyone from Russia to the Shadow Brokers (who recently hacked the NSA), they’re going to have one hell of a time convincing us that our data will be safe and secure.
The problems Trump and the GOP are causing for the Census are nothing to shrug at. So much of the way this country is run depends on an accurate Census count, and they’re going to have a really difficult time.
Featured image by Mark Wilson via Getty Images