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Adding Citizenship Question Will Impede a Fair and Accurate Census Count

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
David Biemesderfer, President and CEO of United Philanthropy Forum, issued the following statement after Commerce Secretary Ross this week approved the inclusion of an untested question on citizenship status in his 2020 census questions submission to Congress:
Commerce Secretary Ross’ decision this week to include an untested question on citizenship status in the 2020 census will put at serious risk a fair and accurate census count in 2020. 
The U.S. Constitution requires a count of all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or noncitizens, whether they were born in the United States or in another part of the world. Recent Census Bureau focus groups have documented an “unprecedented” level of concern about confidentiality in completing the census, particularly in immigrant communities. These fears will be greatly exacerbated by adding a citizenship question to the census, causing census response rates to plummet—impacting “red” states and “blue” states alike. 
Furthermore, adding a citizenship question to the census at this late date means that it cannot be tested, which is a recipe for disaster. The Census Bureau conducts careful, costly research over a period of many years to develop the census questions. The addition of a new question that has not been tested —particularly a controversial one—adds further risk to the success of the count.
A fair and accurate census count is a critical issue for philanthropy. Community leaders, including philanthropy, rely on accurate U.S. census data to make good decisions about planning and funding for schools, and services and programming for seniors, veterans, families and other community residents. Furthermore, the most undercounted populations in the census are ones that philanthropy often supports—including immigrants, young children (especially Latino and Black children), as well as low-income, low educational attainment and rural households. When these populations are undercounted, their communities will lose millions of dollars in government support to meet community needs.
United Philanthropy Forum will continue to work with our colleagues across all sectors to ensure that the Census Bureau can conduct a fair and accurate census count in 2020, which includes finding a solution to this ill-advised decision that will derail a successful count.
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