Dominion of New York

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May 23, 2012

Why Republicans Want to Dismantle the Census

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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House Republicans passed a bill last week that would undermine census research. Photo courtesy of Flickr/PaulSh


ast week, after House Republicans learned with the rest of America that the majority of children being born in the U.S. are not white, they began working to dismantle the census. What will they do after hearing today’s census news, which casts America’s demographics as even more unfavorable to their electoral prospects? Yesterday, the census bureau reported that the 2010 census undercounted people of color by 9.9 percent, or 1.5 million, and over-counted non-Hispanic whites by 0.8 percent.

Here’s how the undercount breaks down brown by racial or ethnic group:

  • Native American: 4.9 percent
  • Blacks: 2.1 percent
  • Latinos: 1.5 percent
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: 1.3 percent
  • Asian: 0.1 percent

The undercounting of black people is a persistent problem in the census, present at least since the 1940s, when the undercount of the general population was also high. But as the bureau has improved its count of the white population, the undercounting of people of color stubbornly remains.

During the census taking, census officials met with New York’s city council to explain why they believe it happens here. They cited three reasons: off-the-books housing, off-the-books tenants, off-the-books work.

  1. Off-the-books housing: Nearly 40 percent of the new housing created in NYC from 1990 to 2005 years is illegal, much of it in residential basements and attics. “There are many households where the landlord sorts the mail,” said Stacey Cumberbatch, the city’s 2010 Census coordinator. Speaking from the point of view of a landlord with illegal tenants, she adds: “If I get a form for my illegal tenants, I may not give it to them, wondering how anyone knows they live in the basement.”
  2. Off-the-books tenants: Some of New York’s public housing residents and voucher holders don’t want the New York City Housing Authority to know that a cousin, friend or partner lives with them, because telling the truth would jeopardize their leases or vouchers.
  3. Off-the-books work:An estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York City, and fear their participation in the census will lead to their deportation.

I don’t envision Republicans caring much about the causes. The browning of America is a problem they seem to want to sweep under the rug by minimizing the functions of the census bureau. The decennial census is of course mandated by the U.S. Constitution. But the monthly census research that the bureau also conducts is not mandatory and House Republicans want to get rid of it. Last week they passed a bill that would make participation optional, according to The New York Times.

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation. 

Businesses — who rely heavily on the monthly data the census bureau collects and publishes — are confused by this sudden political maneuver. An executive told the Times:

“Knowing what’s happening in our economy is so desperately important to keeping our economy functioning smoothly,” said Maurine Haver, the chief executive and founder of Haver Analytics, a data analysis company. “The reason the Great Recession did not become another Great Depression is because of the more current economic data we have today that we didn’t have in the 1930s.”

Denouncing this census research is about as smart a political maneuver as denouncing the birth-control that virtually every heterosexual American uses at one point in life. But Webster — the bill’s sponsor — disagrees with the business community and says the monthly research is actually bad for business.

Mr. Webster says that businesses should instead be thanking House Republicans for reducing the government’s reach.

“What really promotes business in this country is liberty,” he said, “not demand for information.”



About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.