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Long Story Short - The Controversial Question: Would You Answer It?
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Every 10 years the Census Bureau sends out a survey, the decennial census, to every listed household in America in efforts to count every person and collect accompanying information on them. Required by the Constitution, the population numbers determine the amount of representatives and federal funding states will receive for their citizens. The Census Bureau accounts for every person, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Recently, President Trump proposed to add in a citizenship question to the 2020 census which has posed much controversy.
Responses are confidential. Under Title 13 of the United States Code, census responses cannot be made public or be publish by any means. The purpose of the census is to collect statistical information to determine congressional seats and federal funding that’s distributed. Employees that handle census responses are sworn to uphold the law. If an individual is found to have violated this law, they may receive a prison sentence of up to five years and/or a maximum fine of $250,000.
This isn’t the first time. The Census Bureau has included a citizenship status question since the 1820 census through 1950, but removed it for the 1960 census and beyond. For the 1970 “long form” census the citizenship question returned, but it does not get distributed to every household in America. The American Community Survey (ACS), that is also distributed by the Census Bureau, is a survey that is distributed every year to random households in order to keep up with changing statistics and demographics on citizens. The ACS includes a citizenship question. Just like the decennial census, the responses cannot be shared with other government agencies.
Proper distribution of services and funds. Citizenship questions that have appeared on previous census surveys and that are currently on the American Community Survey are used to help schools better understand the demographics of the children attending. With this information, they are better able to collect funding from the state for special programs. Citizenship information, in conjunction with other information collected such as languages spoken at home and employment, helps communities better enforce laws regarding discrimination and the Voting Rights Act. Without an accurate count, these services cannot be accurately provided.
Reduced Responses. The citizenship question may reduce the number of responses to the 2020 census. A June report from the Census Bureau predicted that the citizenship question may reduce responses by 8% from households with at least one non-citizen. Many may feel uneasy answering this question, as a main agenda for the Trump administration has revolved around citizenship and immigration.
Don’t Comply? Get a Fine. Choosing to not complete the Census in its entirety, giving false responses, or leaving part of it unanswered can result in a fine. Although this isn’t historically enforced with an iron fist, there is still the possibility of it happening. People who don’t respond to the census in the allotted timeframe are typically followed up by the census workers, who show up to their homes, send letters, or call.
Fear of being found. Although the census data, by federal law, cannot be distributed to other government agencies, it has happened before. The Department of Homeland Security can use the census data for certain tasks, not the names and addresses of individuals, but nearly all other statistical information that is submitted. This happened in 2004 when they requested census information on Americans of Arab descent in the U.S. The information gathered was as specific as the zip code of these where these people lived. Many now fear that with the citizenship question being reintroduced, it will be used to deport non-citizens and tear apart families that have lived and worked here all their life.
Double-edged sword. The decennial census is conducted with the purpose to collect accurate information on the population and the demographic changes that occur. Adding back the citizenship question may result in better distribution of much needed funding for certain areas in the country. A possible response to this may be decreased responses, leading to an inaccurate population count and therefore distribution of funds won’t be adequate. The Trump administration has had a difficult time trying to get this question reintroduced for the 2020 census and it is still unknown if it will be printed or not.
https://www.census.gov/history/www/reference/privacy_confidentiality/title_13_us_code.html ,United States Census Bureau
https://www.npr.org/2019/03/31/707899218/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-2020-census, Hansi Lo Wang, March 31, 2019
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-expected-announce-executive-action-adding-citizenship-question/story?id=64262805, Katherine Faulders and Alexander Mallin, July 11, 2019
https://www.census.gov/acs/www/about/why-we-ask-each-question/citizenship/, United States Census Bureau
https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/about.html, United States Census Bureau