The Indicator from Planet Money - Economic Consequences Of The Census

The coronavirus pandemic, distrust of the government, and a surprising political battle have the 2020 Census count.

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NPR

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Airborne part of here. This is the indicator from Planet Money every 10 years the US government tries to get a count of every person living in the country and identify Everyone by their demographic background and by where they live this is called the decennial census in the census determines among a lot of other things. Just how many seats in Congress go to each state will 2020 is a census year in accounting for the senses just wrapped up and this might be the single most important and exciting event that people are not talking enough about except this guy National correspondent for NPR covering the people power and money behind the 2020 census about this year's census and especially about the huge consequences including the economic consequences. If the Census Bureau does not get the count right because this year there are serious

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Doubts about whether he can get the count right that conversation is coming up right after a quick break.

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Angela Wong Wok on the podcast. Thank you. Let me start with this 20/20 is such a weird year in which to have to do the Census count given what's happened with the pandemic so kind of overview of all the logistical challenges involved in doing it. Well weird is just an understatement this pandemic completely upended the census bureau's major plans for getting a complete counts of every person living in the country as a constitution requires every 10 years because there's a substantial part of the population in the United States that have a lot of distrust of a government that don't want to participate in the census even though it's required by the Constitution and the Census Bureau relies on in person Outreach. That's how it's tried to reach and make sure these historically under kind of groups people of color immigrants renters rule residents that they are not missed in this head count.

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In-person Outreach that's the way to do it that was practically impossible in the early months of the pandemic the bureau then try to overcome some of the challenges by putting in place, you know, these these measures for the Census Bureau workers to be socially distant in to wear masks, but on top of that it's all the delays caused by this pandemic that really forced to Bureau to push baggage schedule and made this headcount through it just deeper and deeper into chaos because account that was supposed to have ended at the end of July I had to continue on for months and there's been a lot going on. So let me let me try to set this up for a listeners the Trump Administration initially agreed in the first few months after the pandemic with the Census Bureau that the bureau should take more time in doing the count but then the administration changed its mind a few months ago and it made the assessment that the sea.

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Hasbro should actually finish the count sooner even though that could mean undercounting certain groups of people is is you just explained so advocacy groups and state governments pushed back on the administration saying that they wanted to make sure that everyone did get counted and the whole thing went to the court and then last week the Supreme Court effectively allowed the scent of count to end it sided with the Trump Administration presumably if some groups of people do end up being under counter in the census people of color immigrants, for example, then the states where they live will get less representation in Congress, but do we know why the administration changed its mind so it's really not clear why the ministration made this change in its assessment. Other than there is this one thing that President Trump did in July, which is he issued a memo calling for an unprecedented changed to those numbers that determine each stage of congressional seat.

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President Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the numbers that determine each they share of seats in the House of Representatives and intern in the Electoral College. Even though the 14th Amendment of the Constitution requires that count to include the whole number of persons in each state and the Supreme Court has just recently agreed to hear this case new end of November is when they're set to hear oral arguments over whether or not President Trump can make this unprecedented change to the numbers. Here's the thing about timing by ending the count really the Trump Administration has a possible shots here at delivering the numbers the state population counts to President Trump by the end of the year, which would be during his current term in office regardless of whether he wins re-election or not. So he can still have control according to this timing. But again,

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The big open question given all these delays in all these interruptions whether or not the Census Bureau can actually meet this December 31st deadline at this point. This is all fascinating because it seems like the Census count should be a non political issue. It's just it's just getting account of who in fact lives in the country and get the count this year very much has been politicized. You note to take a step back here to the census is ultimately about power and it's about money and show that there is a knock-down-drag-out fight over it should not be surprising if you look at it from that perspective, but certainly this Administration has made a number of efforts here to to really try to put their stamp on how the count is conducted in who was included in this count and they're trying to test exactly what their limits are at. The Supreme Court now is about power and money and horse worth.

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Economics podcast around here. So let me give me ask you about the money part. What are some of the economic consequences at stake of getting an accurate count from the sense that we're talking about an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars a year in federal funding for public services including Medicare Medicaid education roads emergency response. These are all examples of Public Services where the funding from federal tax dollars that funding is distributed in part based on the results of the census, you know, so it's really hard to overstate how influential these numbers are in addition. What's often overlooked is that Business Leaders rely on these set of numbers to make decisions about where to open up new storefronts how to plan out a potential customer base has researchers Economist rely.

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Unlisted figure out exactly who is living in this country and how that should be factored into their work. This is a fundamental set of data that so many people rely on and so all of these questions about how accurate they are. How complete they are. These have major implications on what life will look like including the economy over the next 10 years and United States. I guess. I'm I'm wondering if there's one thing about the Census count that people maybe don't appreciate enough or or misunderstand and that you think that our listeners really should know about what would you tell him? It was always perplexed me why there is so much focus on the elections, but not as much on the census and maybe it has to do with you know, the census it only happens once every 10 years and it seems kind of boring and dull, you know counting every person living in the country. It's just a cow.

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But this is a count that determines voting power. It determines the power of each voters vote in presidential elections in 2024 and 2028 because the results of this count affects how many Electoral College votes each state gets not to mention the impact on federal funding on congressional seats on how voting districts are redrawn here for whatever reason to census gets overlooked until the deadline comes and there are so many little decisions that are made before the account starts and I think this census through all the controversies that I've reported on may be a good reminder of just how much every person living in the country can be affected by these numbers and how much their power and their money.

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Art's Sake

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Angela Wong thanks so much. You're welcome Carter.

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Decatur was produced by Darren Woods. In fact check by Shawn. Saldania our editors Patty Hearst and the indicator is a production of NPR.
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