Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History: Citizenship and the US Census

Posted by Monica Brady-Myerov on April 30, 2018

Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. We will take a look at the 2020 US census and how the questions about citizenship might affect the return rate.

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Every 10 years the US Census Bureau aims to count every person living in the United States. Data from the census directly affects how billions of dollars in federal and state aid is given to state and local governments. The next US Census is on April 1, 2020 and the questions have been approved and released. The Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau ask a citizenship question to provide data on the voting age population that is not currently available. As a result, the 2020 US Census will include this question: Is this person a citizen of the United States?

Many are concerned that under the Trump administration Latinos, along with other minorities, will be less likely to respond for fear that immigration enforcement will use their answers against the community. This would cause many people to be undercounted, leading to less political representation and federal funding for these areas. The communities with larger numbers of immigrants who don’t want to reveal their citizenship status would get less funding and have smaller budgets than communities with larger numbers of US citizens.

Proponents of this change argue that federal law protects the privacy of census data including inter-agency communication. Since the question is about citizenship and not immigration status, some advocates are encouraging their communities to complete the census and be counted. Also, if fewer people voluntarily respond, the government will have to spend more money on workers to go door to door to collect responses.

The Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, had the authority to make the decision about questions on the 2020 census. According to him, the need for accurate citizenship data outweighed fears about a potentially lower response rate. He stated that no empirical data existed on the impact of a citizenship question on responses. Listen to hear more about this new question on the US Census and the fears that might result in changes to state and local budgets in some communities.

Join the conversation:

  • What are the arguments for and against asking people to answer a question about citizenship on the US Census?
  • Do you think there is a better way to gather data for federal and state aid?
  • What things could the US Census Bureau do to build trust and gather better data in Latino and other minority communities?

Keep the conversation going with Facing History’s resources:

  • Use our mini-lesson, “Who Can Become American?” to provide context for the ongoing debate over who can come to the United States, who can stay, and what it means to be American.
  • Explore our featured collection of resources for the documentary American Creed, which brings together teaching strategies, videos, and activities that will help you and your students explore themes such as common ideals and national identity.
  • Use our lesson, “Becoming American: Exploring Names and Identities,” which uses a class identity chart to consider how names reflect identity and explore both what is diverse and what is shared in their classroom community.

Explore more stories from Listenwise:

Listenwise helps teachers use public radio stories in their classrooms. To find more public radio stories and lessons for your middle and high school ELA, social studies, and science classrooms you can sign up for a free Listenwise account!



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Topics: Today's News Tomorrow's History, current events, Listenwise

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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