51 prominent economists have signed an open letter to Congress, released today, in strong support of robust funding of the 2020 census to ensure a fair and accurate count of the U.S. population. Signatories include four Nobel Prize winners, five past presidents of the American Economic Association, one current and two past presidents of the National Economic Association, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, and former officials from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.
While Congress did provide funding for fiscal year 2018 above the administration’s request for the 2020 census, the letter expresses concern about the cumulative effects of years of underfunding and urges Congress to address the U.S. Census Bureau’s two immediate needs: a significant increase in funding for fiscal year 2019 and the authority to spend at the necessary levels in absence of an appropriation.
“Across the ideological spectrum, economists agree that the census is an essential tool to improve our understanding of the country’s economic and social reality,” said EPI President Thea Lee, who signed the letter. “Congress and the administration should provide the financial support that both the Census Bureau and experts have determined is necessary to maintain the integrity of the census.”
The economists note that the 2020 census will employ new technologies to allow respondents to take the census online or on their telephone. These technologies, however, could pose new challenges, including the potential for cyber threats. Additionally, a fair census requires that the Census Bureau connect with many hard-to-reach populations, such as those living in low-income rural and urban areas, recent immigrants, and people with limited English. These challenges are best addressed with long-term planning and adequate financing, which begins with robust funding for the census in 2019.