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The 2020 Census Will Be a Bust

I wanted to get the count of people who live in my geographical area right during the 2020 US Census. I had taken part in the 2010 census and I enjoyed working both on the streets counting people in my area, and later on, working at the local census office in western Massachusetts attempting to figure out when census enumerations didn’t look right in a particular area.

My attempts at being part of this year’s census fell apart pretty quickly. I particularly wanted my role in the census to be successful this time around because of the Trump administration’s antipathy at counting all the people who live in the US. Here’s the equation for the right-wing attack against the census: Fewer people counted means less representation in Congress; fewer people counted means some federal programs operate without adequate funding.

The census called me in about a year ago to take part in mapping operations, and that experience was a bust. Mapping in the census is the work that people like me complete to find out where real addresses are on the streets,  and those addresses are compared to census responses and later door-to-door census operations. It took forever to get the census laptops to register personal information, and the password I was assigned was more difficult to work with than the combinations on the locks that protect the gold at Fort Knox. It was almost laughable how long and how many mixed symbols were included in the initial census password needed to unlock census computers.

The group I trained with in Amherst, Massachusetts was instructed to use both official census computers and our home computers to continue our training online. The piece involving the census computers fell apart immediately (the census computers proved useless in continuing online training) and I notified the census to contact me in 2020 when door-to-door census enumeration would take place.

They, the census, slated me for training next during the summer of 2020 and I had to cancel because of another commitment. I was assigned to a second training site, but protested the requirement to attend several hours of indoor training at the designated site given concerns about the contagion of Covid-19. I asked the local census office why training couldn’t be conducted under a tent outdoors and was told that several other potential census enumerators had the same concern, but indoor in-person training went on, anyway.

When the second training session approached, I balked again, because despite the alarms sounded by several agencies that monitor the census, regarding the shortening of the door-to-door enumeration process, the census was given only two months to complete its door-to-door operation. Also missing would be enumeration in group quarters like colleges and universities. How the census will extrapolate numbers from the latter remains a mystery to me. Even the most gifted statisticians can’t produce accurate, or even close to accurate numbers, from nonexistent numbers of people.

When I was assigned a new training site, the census informed me that an additional four hours of home training on my personal computer were required on the same day as the initial indoor training. Other training online would follow that initial training blitz. It would have been nearly impossible to complete classroom training hours away and then spend hours at home on my computer on the same day.

The shortened window to count those who had not responded to the census creates much potential for mayhem in terms of an under-count and further politicalization of this year’s census. Many are already leery of participating in the census because of the propaganda spun by the Trump administration about a citizenship question (“Supreme Court Leaves Census Question on Citizenship in Doubt,” New York Times, June 27, 2019) that was ultimately jettisoned by Washington, D.C.

In a nearby town in western Massachusetts, posts recently appeared on an Internet forum reporting multiple visits to the same addresses by census enumerators of people who previously completed their census forms.

Readers can infer the picture being drawn here, as federal funds for all kinds of government operations are based on an accurate count of those who live in the US. I admit to going into the 2020 census halfheartedly because the handwriting seemed to have been written on the wall. The Trump administration didn’t want an accurate count of people who live in the US. The census will be done, but it will not be a complete enumeration and accounting of those who live in the US. Many who depend on federal programs and the election process itself will be harmed by faulty accounting of those who live in the US in 2020. I plead mea culpa in my hesitancy to take part in this tainted program. The effort of census office workers to get people onboard for the census is commendable, with workers making repeated efforts to enlist people for the work. On August 10, while I was working in my yard, a census worker from Springfield, Massachusetts drove up my driveway, offering to train me in person for the first part of census training. With 16 additional hours of online training required before I could begin local census enumerations and only about 6 weeks remaining to finish the door-to-door census count according to the Trump administration, I thanked the worker and said goodbye to the 2020 census. My heart was not in it this time around.

And finally this from MoveOn that is too good not to pass on:

If we defeat Trump this November—and if we all do our part, we will—Senator Harris will make history as the first Black person, first South Asian-American, and first woman to ever hold the position of vice president!

We are so excited to support Senator Harris as she joins Joe Biden’s campaign! That’s why we’re printing a big batch of “Biden-Harris” stickers and are giving them away for FREE while supplies last!

The Democrats prove that their decades-old lock on neoliberalism is an ongoing catastrophe.They’ll be no place for MoveOn‘s bumper sticker for “Say it ain’t so, Joe” (CounterPunch) and “top cop” (Harris’ own description of herself) Harris.  Good luck getting Senator Harris to comment on the issue of an alleged sexual assault that Tara Reade raised about the time she worked for Joe Biden.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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