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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida stands to lose if census doesn't add up.

Immigration activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in April as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 Census. Associated Press.
Published Jun. 12

The 2020 census is likely to significantly under count Florida's residents, a problem with roots beyond the proposed citizenship question. The Trump administration has spent less on preparation and outreach, and some of the innovations promised to increase efficiency remain undertested or unready for wide-scale use, a new report says. That's a worrying for all Floridians, no matter your political leanings.

Much of the recent chatter about the upcoming decennial census has centered on the Trump administration's plan to include the citizenship question. President Donald Trump Wednesday called any notion that a citizenship question should not be included "ridiculous.'' But critics rightly argue that the question would discourage minorities and immigrants from responding to the census, undermining the primary objective to count every person living in the country. About 6.5 million residents nationwide are projected to go uncounted if the U.S. Supreme Court approves the question and it appears on teh Census.

The accuracy concerns don't end there, according to the Urban Institute report "Assessing Miscounts in the 2020 census." The authors unveil a convincing argument for how Florida and other states with high numbers of African Americans and non-white Hispanics will wind up with lower counts. A main reason is the move toward more self-reporting at a time when fewer people respond to federal surveys. Online self-reporting also requires reliable Internet service, something blacks and Hispanics lack more often than white households.

To fill the gaps, Census workers rely on administrative records like voter registration, property records and other government and privately held databases. But that's hardly perfect. For one, the Census Bureau found in one test that 8.5 percent of addresses deemed vacant using administrative records were occupied.

Another problem: The records are more comprehensive for white people, as the Tampa Bay Times' Langston Taylor reported recently. White residents, for instance, own their own homes at a much higher rate than African American residents, which makes them easier to locate and count. It doesn't help that the Census Bureau cancelled two of the proposed dress rehearsals due to budget shortfalls.

The Urban Institute predicts that as many as 320,000 Floridians could go uncounted, the equivalent of failing to include anyone from St. Petersburg, Dunedin and New Port Richey. Best case, Florida is under counted by 97,000, the researchers found.

The population count matters. It determines how many seats Florida gets in the U.S. House and how federal the government allocate funds to states for health care programs and other needs. Private businesses use the head count to figure out where to open new stores or whether to move their headquarters. Bottom line: Florida loses unless every resident gets counted.

The Supreme Court should rule against including the citizenship question. But the Census Bureau also needs enough resources to accurately count everyone living in the country. Anything less is a disservice, one Florida and the nation will have to live with for years.

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