The Census Bureau is closing 30 offices in California for the 2020 Census, cutting its presence almost by half since 2010. But while this cut is the result of funding problems that had long worried officials, California Democrats are using the news to accuse Republicans of using the agency to target them.
According to the Sacramento Bee, some of the areas in California losing Census offices include Sacramento, Fresno, Placerville, Elk Grove, and Fairfield. But while the state’s capital will host at least one field office for the 2020 Census, the other mentioned locations will have no physical representation.
Other regions such as Merced, Stockton, and Bakersfield will once again hold offices.
In theory, fewer field offices shouldn’t be a problem, as it is against the law and punishable by a fine to skip the Census. However, the law is rarely enforced, meaning that the agency still has to press to get enough information from respondents.
In 2017, reports claimed that due to the $12.3 billion taxpayers had to come up with to cover for the the 2010 Census — the costliest in U.S. Census history — the bureau became concerned about its growing budget needs. With officials estimating that the 2020 census could cost about $12.5 billion, pressure to cut down on expenses followed.
Recently, the agency stated that the number of offices nationwide would be cut in half, adding that it would be hiring fewer employees to follow up with residents who fail to respond census information requests.
Considering that California’s population growth has been steadily declining and residents have been fleeing to other states due to the high cost of living, the cut makes sense. But as voters everywhere report being more distrustful of the government and the Census facing serious setbacks due to the increased costs of surveying the country’s population, California’s Democrats fear the state will lose one of its House seats, as well as a vote in the Electoral College.
News outlets have largely been careful not to blame this on Republicans, as the state is simply following rules regarding population growth. As the Sacramento Bee argued, the bureau’s shrinking physical presence in the Golden State will result in poor data collection, leading to issues counting state residents. Without counting every single person in the state, the report stated, California could risk losing billions of dollars in taxpayer-backed federal funding as well as political representation.
Online, liberal social media users and state representatives pointed the finger at their political opponents.
On platforms such as Twitter, users accused Republicans of cutting Census funding in order to hurt Democrats in states like California, while some even accused the federal government of basing the decision to cut offices in California on racism. California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon added fuel to the fire, saying that it was the Trump administration itself trying to gain political points by not counting everyone.
Despite the accusations, advocates already began to work ahead of schedule to urge Californians to self-report, so Census field officers don’t have “to do a lot of work,” especially in the follow-up period.
But odds are not in advocates’ favor.
Immediately after the Trump administration attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, news outlets began reporting that immigrants and their families would avoid responding the Census, or end up giving fake answers, over deportation fears. This prompted many to claim they would mostly distrust any results from the 2020 Census, as they would feel that data collected would be either incomplete or falsified.
With this, it became clear that a considerable number of residents would not be officially counted, prompting California liberals to fear the citizenship question. Considering that California has almost 11 million immigrants, losing even a fraction of that number would significantly decrease California’s influence in Washington.
So while Trump is accused of politicizing the Census, it is more than clear that even if they are correct, he isn’t the only one turning the number of residents into a political tool.
Following the 2016 election, major news outlets partnered with left-leaning influencers, creating a general feel of panic among immigrants and minorities in general. It was in this environment that helped brew greater distrust toward the federal government, making the Census even less effective.
To many small-government conservatives who have long distrusted the federal government, the idea that the state apparatus might be used to fulfill a political agenda has always been a concern. And as they have long suggested, what we’re seeing now can be characterized as political parties fighting over voters’ data that can ultimately help them win more elections.
In his commentary regarding the Census, professor of economics in the Lutgert College Business at Florida Gulf Coast University Christopher Westley wrote that the Census “has become an enemy” of productive Americans, as “its purpose devolved from its Constitutional one.” Furthermore, he concluded, “the Census has become [the government’s] primary engine for finding and buying new constituencies.”