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Prepare Now For The 2020 Census

The Editorial BoardMay 21, 2019

Even the best-case scenario for Pennsylvania after the next census is not encouraging. Due to known population trends, the state is certain to lose one seat in Congress and it could lose two. That alone makes it crucial that the state government moves now to prepare for the 2020 census. The need is even more urgent because of two other crucial factors regarding the census itself. • The census will be the first conducted primarily online. That puts Pennsylvania at risk of an undercount because its percentage of older residents who are not internet users is higher than in most other states, and because of the high percentage of the state’s large rural population that does not have access to broadband. • Prior to the census, the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on whether the questionnaire may include a citizenship question. If the justices approve such a question, which seemed likely based on their questioning of lawyers who argued the question, that could spur an undercount of actual state residents because many un-naturalized immigrants are expected to evade the census rather than answer the question “no.” The question of how many people live somewhere, rather than the number of citizens, is crucial because distribution of federal funds is based on census-determined population. According to the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, an undercount of just 1% would cost the state $221.8 million a year in federal funding. That’s why ensuring an accurate count should be a nonpartisan prerogative. Monday, the Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Committee recommended that the state fund a comprehensive education and compliance effort to ensure that the census misses as few Pennsylvanians as possible. After reviewing appropriations in other states that also need an accurate count, the commission recommended that the government spend $1 per state resident, about $12.8 million. That seems a worth investment — less than 6% of what the state could lose in a single year due to a 1% undercount. Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to help produce the most accurate count possible.

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