Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s proposal to add a question to the 2020 Census about an individual’s citizenship status is unconstitutional. The Court has asked the Department of Commerce for further justification. Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. wrote that agencies must offer “genuine justifications for important decisions …” and that “accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise.”
What Does This Mean for the Census?
This decision is a positive one for the adult learners we serve. Inclusion of a question about citizenship status increases the risk of a dramatic undercount. It is important that all Americans participate in the census, as it determines how many congressional seats are allocated at all levels of government and how $800 million in federal funds are distributed—funds that support health care, education, infrastructure, and more.
Right now, the question is “on hold” while the Court asks for justification. The administration previously stated that a final decision must be made by June in order for the census to be administered on time. So, it is somewhat unclear whether this means that the Census Bureau will need to delay preparing the census OR if the lack of a decision by June means that the citizenship question cannot be included on the form. ProLiteracy will continue to monitor and provide information as this unfolds.
Advocacy is Important
ProLiteracy, as a member of the National Coalition for Literacy (NCL), has been actively monitoring census activity. The NCL partnered with Census Counts to monitor all work and decisions related to Census 2020. Our overarching goal is to ensure a full and fair count of adult learners and their families.
The NCL signed on to an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court outlining reasons for opposing the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census form. In addition, the NCL has provided guidance to the Census Bureau’s National Partnership Program on effective ways of working with adult education programs to ensure a full and fair count. Adult learners, and in particular immigrant learners, are often hard-to-count populations.
What Other Census Obstacles Do Adult Learners Face?
In addition to the citizenship status question potentially causing a major undercount of adult learners, in particular immigrants and refugees, there are additional census considerations for literacy programs.
1) The 2020 Census will be the first to offer households the opportunity to complete the form online. This will cause an obstacle for many learners who may not be comfortable with technology.
2) The option of completing the census online has the potential for increased attempts at defrauding individuals. This has been the case in the past also, but online delivery is more likely to augment fraudulent messages.
It is important to convey to adult learners why it is vital to be counted in the census AND to prepare them with information needed to combat obstacles they may face while trying to complete the census form. We encourage you to continue to visit the NCL website, which has the latest news about the census and tools for adult literacy programs. ProLiteracy will also be featuring a special session at our upcoming conference in September in San Diego for helping literacy programs prepare learners.