We count

This post originally ran in the December 1, 2017 issue of the Slant. Want Asian American news delivered to your inbox every Friday morning? Subscribe today!

Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic, but it’s about time we talk data. Census data, that is.

While the census itself won’t take place until 2020, the Census Bureau is reportedly already behind in its preparations. The census has never been perfect, historically undercounting people of color, immigrants, and rural and low-income communities. That includes Asian Americans and particularly Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

And it’s not going to get any better this time around. The Census Bureau wants to implement new counting procedures, based around a major effort to move counting online to reduce costs. But the bureau’s budget, like that of many federal agencies, is being slashed and they have had to cancel or postpone important tests. It’s bad enough that the Government Accountability Office has labeled the 2020 census “high risk”.

Can you be represented if you don’t officially exist?

Census data is the basis for much of how federal resources are allocated: the number of representatives a state gets in the House, the way voting districts are drawn, and perhaps most crucially how $675 billion in federal aid gets distributed.

Data is a tremendously powerful tool. If we can’t identify areas of need, then they can’t be addressed. And if we’re not counted, then we don’t count. When populations are left out of the census it can cut off their access to crucial programs, reduce government representation, and lead to gerrymandering. Leaders are sounding the alarm already, hoping to turn this ship around before it’s too late.

Jessica Yi, editor, who is trying to salvage (aka finish) an open bottle of wine that is about to go bad

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