The Census, Why it is Critical

Come to the Census 2020 Public Forum at Shadle Park High School (4327 N Ash St, Spokane, WA 99205) this Thursday, February 6th from 5:30-7:30PM.

The Basis of the U.S. Decennial Census

The Framers understood the Census (they called it an “Enumeration”) as the foundation of our representative government. The Enumeration appears very near the beginning of the U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3. Article I overall sets the rules for the composition and function of the Congress, the first branch of the three branches of our government. The House of Representatives, the first governing body described in the Constitution, most closely represents the people in this federation of states. The Enumeration, the counting of all the people in each state, determines the distribution of Representatives sent by each state to the U.S. House. (Many subsequent acts of Congress determine the total number of Representatives, but that’s a topic for another day.) Of course, the Framers immediately hit a snag: for the purpose of determining representation in the House, do you or do you not count slaves, people considered by some as property, not real people? The Three-Fifths Compromise they struck at the writing of the Constitution required the American Civil War and the 14th Amendment to un-do. (Click the blue for more explanation of this sad chapter in our history of “self” government.)

The people to be Enumerated according to Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 were men, women, and children, all the way from recently arrived immigrants to descendants of folks who had come over on the Mayflower to everything in between (“citizenship” was an ill-defined concept back then). The Enumerated were NOT just those authorized to cast votes in elections. The modern day Census works the same way, it counts people, not “citizens” or voters. (Rules for voting for Representatives are determined by states and Congress together as set out in Article I, Section 4.) The more people counted by the Census the more proportional power (via re-apportionment seats in the House) is granted to the subgroup who get to vote (and actually do so). Representatives are charged with representing all those counted in their district–but the temptation is to pay attention only to their voters. It’s a complicated calculus.

The 2020 Decennial Census: Power, Money, and Challenges


The Decennial (every ten years) Census set forth in Article I of the Constitution determines each state’s proportion of Representatives in the U.S. House as discussed above, but that’s only the beginning of its importance. The Census provides the data on which are re-drawn the in-state boundaries of all U.S. Congressional, state legislative, county, and municipal governmental districts. All these boundaries are re-drawn on the basis of total human bodies counted, NOT on the number of voters. The Census is the data set underlying the determination of these multiple layers of representative power. The numbers counted by the Census are the basis upon which the ground rules are set, the playing field upon which voting and electoral politics happen–and the playing field changes every ten years.


Besides determining our representation in government, around a quarter of our federal tax money (that’s in the neighborhood of onetrillion dollars country wide!) is distributed based on data derived from the Census, distributed through states, counties, cities, and households. (There are at least 316 census-guided federal programs.) For a graspable number, that works out to around $3000 of federal tax dollars per year for every body counted by the Census. If you want to see the details, these federal numbers come from the GW Institute of Public Policy and from the Census itself.

Handicapping the 2020 Census:

Urban areas, it turns out, tend to be harder to census. The Trump administration (think Steven Miller) was well aware of this fact when they pushed for a citizenship question on the census. They knew the fear they instilled would frighten people away, people who should be counted, people disproportionally from urban areas and from more urbanized states. They knew their effort would handicap the Census in their favor regardless whether or not they won the court battles over putting the question on Census questionnaire (they didn’t win in court, but they won the propaganda effort to encourage undercounting of critical groups). In addition, the administration underfunded the Census and introduced a new, unproven online method of gathering data.

The way to push back at this is to be aware, to learn about the Census, talk about the Census, promote the Census, consider working for the Census, and encourage others to sign up to do so. The Committee Coordinator of the Spokane County Complete Count Committee ( informs us that the Census is still hiring in our area. Visit:  Share that with anyone who might feel civic-minded and wants to some extra money. (It pays $15.50-16.00/hr in our area.) More information:

Whether or not you and someone you know might work for the census make it your civic duty to learn more about it. Come to the Census 2020 Public Forum at Shadle Park High School (4327 N Ash St, Spokane, WA 99205) this Thursday, February 6th from 5:30-7:30PM.

It’s our democracy–if we can keep it–or reclaim it.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. The Enumeration of slaves covered in Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution was certainly a fraught issue, but so was not counting “Indians not taxed.” It seems that American Indians living on reservations were neither taxed nor counted. The U.S government’s legal (and census) treatment of the Native Americans is a long, complex, and ugly story. Here’s a starting source:

P.S.S. Besides the trillion dollars of federal tax money distributed based on the Census, some of state revenue distribution also depends on the Census. In Washington State that is another 200 million that depends on the Census.