AERA Questions Citizenship Item Being Added to 2020 U.S. Census

March 2018

On March 26, the Commerce Department announced that the 2020 U.S. Census will include a question on the citizenship status of those being counted. The announcement was quickly condemned by the research community.

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), which is chaired by AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine, issued a statement, noting:

It is simply too late in the cycle to contemplate adding a question to the census. In the decade leading up to a decennial census, the Census Bureau conducts years of rigorous research and testing to ensure that even the smallest changes to design and wording will not impact the accuracy of the responses received. This research and testing phase culminates in the “dry run” of the census, the 2018 End-to-End Census Test, which is being conducted now—without a question on citizenship. Even Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross concluded that his department “is not able to determine definitively how the inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness.”

COSSA is also encouraging concerned Americans to act now to contact their members of Congress to voice opposition to the citizenship question.

John Thompson, executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, issued a statement in his role as former Census Bureau Director. 

“It is highly risky to ask untested questions in the context of the complete 2020 Census design. There is a great deal of evidence that even minor changes in survey question order, wording, and instructions can have significant, and often unexpected, consequences for the rate, quality, and truthfulness of response,” said Thompson. “Adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.”

On January 10, AERA joined nearly 170 social science, data, and civil and human rights groups in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross urging him to reject the Justice Departure’s request for Acting Census Director Ron Jarmin to add a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

“Adding a new question on citizenship to the 2020 Census undoubtedly would affect response rates, outreach, and advertising strategies, and other important elements of the nation’s largest, most complex peacetime activity, calling into question the results of many years of costly, painstaking research and testing,” the letter said.