After Census Bureau announces early end to its count, fears of a skewed tally rise

click to enlarge Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, testifies to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2020. The Census Bureau confirmed late Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, that it plans to cut four weeks from the schedule for finishing its count of the nation’s 330 million residents, a turnabout that census experts said would deeply imperil an accurate tally of the population. - ANNA MONEYMAKER/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, testifies to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2020. The Census Bureau confirmed late Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, that it plans to cut four weeks from the schedule for finishing its count of the nation’s 330 million residents, a turnabout that census experts said would deeply imperil an accurate tally of the population.
By Michael Wines
The New York Times Company


WASHINGTON — The Census Bureau confirmed late Monday that it plans to cut four weeks from the schedule for finishing its count of the nation’s 330 million residents, a turnabout that census experts said would deeply imperil an accurate tally of the population.

In a statement posted on its website, the bureau said the updated schedule “reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce.”


But the change is a retreat from the bureau’s statement only months ago that the pandemic had made it necessary to ask for more time to complete the count on schedule.

On Tuesday, four former directors of the Census Bureau issued a statement warning that a shorter deadline “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” and urged the administration to restore the lost weeks.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairperson of the House Oversight committee that has jurisdiction over the census, said the new schedule would “rush and politicize the 2020 Census” in a letter sent Tuesday to Steven Dillingham, the Census Bureau director.

The bureau has offered no explanation for the change. But outside experts said the decision was clearly rooted in politics — in particular, in a demand by President Donald Trump last month to exclude immigrants in the country illegally from the population totals that are used every 10 years to reallocate House seats among the states.


The Census Bureau already has collected information from roughly 63% of the nation’s households. The schedule change primarily affects the count of some 60 million households that have failed to fill out census forms, but it also compresses the time left for tallying a number of other groups, including the homeless and residents of group quarters like nursing homes and dormitories.

In April, the Census Bureau said delays caused by the pandemic had forced it to extend the deadline to Oct. 31. The schedule change will move that deadline up by one month, to Sept. 30.

The Census Bureau said that it plans to mount “a robust field data collection operation” to meet the new deadline and that it would be able to complete the 2020 census in a short time “without sacrificing completeness.”

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