Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Notations From the Grid (Special Thursday Edition): As the US Census Begins

Please note the following for review as it will have profound implications for the future of the United States:

The 2020 census officially began Jan. 21 in remote Toksook Bay, Alaska. Credit: Matt Hage/AP Images for U.S. Census Bureau
On this week’s new episode, we’re taking a close look at the U.S. census, which kicks off at the beginning of April across much of the U.S. 
Census data is used for a number of consequential decisions: It’s the basis on which political representation rests, congressional district lines are drawn and more than $1 trillion in government funding is distributed, affecting vital programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Head Start. The census also informs key planning decisions, such as where to build new schools, hospitals and roads. Many businesses use the information to make key decisions as well.
But this year, the prospect of being counted is fraught for many Americans. In our first story, Reveal reporters Matt Smith and Priska Neely travel to Fresno, California, to examine how the state is spending the millions of dollars it’s allocated to ensure an accurate count. In light of a high-profile debate over the possibility of including a citizenship question on the census, the city, home to a large number of people without documentation, is struggling to convince residents that their identities – and futures in the U.S. – are safe. Meanwhile, a lot hangs in the balance for California: If enough of its population isn’t counted properly, the state could lose a congressional seat.
In Texas, lawmakers have faced criticism for not doing enough to ensure an accurate count. These efforts may have partisan roots: A better count, some research suggests, would shift the balance of power toward the Democratic Party. But James Dickey, the state’s GOP party chairman, says otherwise. 
“I do not think that it is a given that noncitizens are fans of the Democrat Party,” he told Reveal’s Smith. Texas, he said, has no obligation to spend money on the census, which he says is the federal government’s job. And the argument that the GOP is turning off the funding faucet to remain in power? 
“That's just a reflection,” he said. “The fact that that is our only argument just shows how weak their position is. When you have no facts on your side, you blame the motives of your opponent.” 
Also in the episode: 
There’s a big debate about who will and won’t get counted as part of this year’s census. But in communities all over the country, there’s also disagreement about where and how people should get counted. We travel to Wisconsin to learn more about how mass incarceration can skew political representation.

More from us …

Also: Introducing Seeing 2020

This episode is just the beginning of our work covering the U.S. census. This week, we’re launching Seeing 2020, a nationwide collaborative reporting initiative with three key goals:
  • Understand what local communities want to know about the census through a multipronged, multipartner listening initiative.
  • Help journalists inform their audiences so they can make educated decisions about participation in the census. 
  • Track and explain how the census’ potential implementation flaws might lead to disempowerment and disenfranchisement down the road.

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