Home Politics Don’t play politics with the 2020 census – San Francisco Chronicle

Don’t play politics with the 2020 census – San Francisco Chronicle

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You may not know it yet, but the 2020 census matters to you in dozens of ways. But some are working to manipulate the census with unnecessary questions stemming from bad motives.

The quality of census data is crucial for research in the United States, as we plan transportation systems, decide when to build schools and work to create jobs and housing. Census data is particularly crucial for public health professionals who make long-term health decisions based on this information.

We must have a complete census count, and the cynical attempt to manipulate the data by adding a citizenship question will create bad public policy. We are learning now through court cases that the citizenship question was added by the Trump administration to help Republicans win elections and limit the political power of people living in underserved communities.

Census data has always been trustworthy and bipartisan. Now the census is being used as a political weapon to pick winners and losers. It is outrageous, and wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court will make a final ruling on the citizenship question by the end of the month.

But a decision allowing the citizenship question, which is aimed at immigrant and minority communities, would deter many from being counted and result in a massive undercount. That is not good for our country, and it is not good for our most vulnerable populations.

My career in public health was built around access to quality census data. We used the data to determine life expectancies in small neighborhoods and to see 20-plus years of life differences among residents of the same city, but in different neighborhoods.

That information led to a different kind of thinking about how to construct public health interventions to improve outcomes in those communities by changing their environments.

The quality of the census data is essential to ensure the quality of that analysis.

One of my sayings — “When it comes to your health, your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code” — is based entirely on census data.

If the citizenship question is allowed, it will be a huge problem for California. It will cost the state billions of dollars in funding for health, education, transportation, housing and other programs where funding is allocated on the basis of population. It could cost our state representation in our nation’s capital.

This would be a catastrophe for California, particularly for regions such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. The census is supposed to count everybody. It is a simple proposition our founding fathers said that makes sense, because everyone uses the resources of our nation, and we must know how to plan for their allocation.

If the citizenship question is allowed, those of us who believe in a complete count need to do all we can to have those groups most fearful of government participate. The goal must be to count everyone, even if the current administration doesn’t believe in such inclusiveness.

The census is difficult enough without adding challenges to it because of all the people who live in isolated areas. But we must reach every corner of California and everyone.

Dr. Anthony Iton is senior vice president of the California Endowment overseeing the 14 Building Healthy Communities projects. He has a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

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