The state's wise census move

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Hardly anyone, including the federal government itself, has confidence in the constitutionally mandated decennial census that will take place in 2020.

The census' problems are financial, political and scientific.

The Trump administration wants to include, for the first time, a question on each respondent's citizenship status, even though the purpose of the census is to count residents where they live rather than to assess the citizenship of residents. That question will ensure that many more people will not respond the census, automatically skewing the results to harm urban areas where most non-citizens live.

Also, claiming that online responses will reduce the project's cost, the administration significantly has reduced census funding. Its calculations do not account for the higher security that is needed for online systems, however.

Last week the Government Accountability Office reported that the census systems are behind schedule, under-staffed and over-budget, and that the online operation is highly vulnerable to cyberattacks and technical problems.

Meanwhile, the need for an accurate census cannot be overstated. It guides the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds, and businesses rely on the data for a host of decisions.

As noted by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, census data underlie the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, which in turn steers allocation of money for federal health care programs — $286.1 billion in 2015. That year, Pennsylvania received $12.1 billion of that funding. According to a study by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy, Pennsylvania would have lost $221.8 million if the 2010 census had been off by just 1 percent.

Given the high stakes and problems at the federal level, Gov. Tom Wolf is on the mark in creating the Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, which will recommend ways to ensure that the Pennsylvania count is accurate. The effort will include public education, recommendations on reaching hard-to-count communities and cooperation among local governments.

The administration deserves credit for trying to ensure that Pennsylvania will be ready for the crucial census, regardless of the degree to which the federal government is ready.

The Times-Tribune

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