In 2017, a government watchdog agency placed the 2020 census on its "high-risk" list — sounding the alarm to the public and lawmakers that the vital decennial count faced near-insurmountable odds.
The initial company printing the forms went bankrupt. There were cybersecurity weaknesses as the census moved online for the first time, hiring shortfalls, cutbacks to crucial operational testing, and the Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question disrupted the all-too-important head count.
Now, as a global coronavirus pandemic upends the American economy and daily life, the census faces a logistical nightmare to avoid what experts say could become a 10-year mistake that skews the balance of power in the U.S. for years to come.
On Monday, the Census Bureau announced it would end its count one month early, on Sept. 30. The move created consternation among researchers, demographers, civil rights organizations, local community leaders, and immigrant rights groups.
"Even under the best of circumstances, the census is an enormously challenging and very, very difficult operation," said Chris Mihm, the managing director for strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency. "When you impose late design changes on that, it just gets exponentially riskier." "And it's once a decade," he added. "There are no do-overs."
Meanwhile, roughly 63 percent of households have responded, according to the Census Bureau. There are 58 million households yet to be counted, and the agency now has roughly seven weeks to count them all.
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