Home Census Doubts persist over the 2020 census

Doubts persist over the 2020 census


How many people live in Wisconsin?

The 2020 census shows 5.9 million, an increase of about 3.5% from 5.7 million 10 years ago. But the census also overrated Minnesota by about 4% and Illinois underestimated by 2%, according to follow-up surveys.

The Census Bureau calls the Minnesota and Illinois errors “statistically significant.” This is compounded by the fact that the Census Bureau gets its numbers wrong. 14 of 50 states. It’s a lot.

I worked for the Census Bureau from early 2019 to late 2020. As a Partnerships Specialist, I worked with a handful of counties to promote community engagement in the census.

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We also needed to form local partnerships to support the first-ever online census. I lobbied city councils, school boards, county councils, newspaper publishers and family cafes. What is less well known is that the Census Bureau promised Congress, as part of its budget deal, that hundreds of thousands of partnerships would be created. Or so they thought.

In January 2020, we learned that we were not generating enough partnerships to achieve this goal, and not just in Wisconsin. Numbers were down nationwide, likely due to COVID-related restrictions. Our orders were to start adding names of groups or individuals who might be interested in being a partner, but not to bother asking them. Just add their names to the main list.

The mind-numbing logic of “sign them up but don’t tell them” was incomprehensible and unethical.

Me and two other colleagues were fed up. We were pulled from a job we were very good at and told to pump partnership numbers instead.

That’s when we filed a whistleblower complaint. In a blatant act of political hypocrisy, the census was ordered to investigate itself for any wrongdoing. Guess what? They couldn’t find anything wrong, but accused the three of us as troublemakers.

The town of Belvidere, about 185 miles northwest of Madison in Buffalo County, is protesting his numbers. State officials agree with village chiefs that 386 people live there. The census insists there are 403. Buffalo County Clerk Deborah Ruff says census staff are hard to work with and won’t tell her what she’s doing wrong.

It’s only 17 people, but local charges are based on population. If they can’t correct the numbers, they may have to raise taxes to cover the extra costs.

In Fontana, about 65 miles southeast of Madison in Walworth County, Administrator Theresa Loomer says working with census staff is “arduous.” The agency mistakenly added 1,250 people to Fontana’s population. Loomer, along with the Department of State Administration, challenged the census and had the error corrected.

Nationally, more egregious errors have occurred. Boston is just one of the American cities claiming thousands were missed in his count. The Brennan Center for Justice says the census missed some 19 million people in total. This is in addition to the disproportionate undercount of Hispanics at three times the rate in 2010.

Back in Wisconsin, it’s impossible to say whether or not the orders to spend weeks building fake partnerships — instead of recruiting real supporters — hurt our account.

But keep in mind that the census had nearly a decade to prepare for the 2020 census, had hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for its budget, thousands of employees, and still miscounted 14 states.

This raises questions for Governor Tony Evers’ administration to take to the Census Department (the deadline is next summer) and demand a better explanation of how it all seems to have gone so horribly wrong.

Wisconsin deserves better.

Huffman, from Fitchburg, is an Emmy Award-winning television producer who writes for TheReporters.org.