STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We are breaking some news today about the 2020 census. NPR has learned the Census Bureau decided to end its door-to-door head count one month early. Now, the Census Bureau doesn't knock on every door but knocks on millions of them to make sure people are properly counted. Ending the count early - that part of the count is a major change that is likely to severely undercount people of color, affecting political representation and federal funding for a decade, which is why Democrats are raising concerns that Republicans are seeking political advantage.
NPR census reporter Hansi Lo Wang broke this story. He's in New York. Good morning.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Talk us through this. What was supposed to happen?
WANG: What was supposed to be happening right now is essentially a slow build-up to the entire country. All the households that have not filled out a census form on their own yet would likely get a masked Census Bureau worker knocking on their door, trying to conduct a socially distanced interview just outside their home to collect that information. And that was supposed to continue through to the end of October. But I have spoken to three Census Bureau employees who learned about a change in the end date during internal meetings this week. And they told me that the new end date is not the end of October. It's been moved up to September 30. That cuts short door knocking by one month.
INSKEEP: OK. So why would that mean that one racial group or one group of people would be less likely to be counted than another?
WANG: Because we're at a point of the census where the residents who have not been counted are not likely to participate in the census themselves, not likely to go online, call a phone number or mail back a form. And they are only going to be counted very likely if someone comes to visit their door, which is a very tall order - that there are a lot of folks, even before the pandemic, don't trust the government, don't trust strangers at their door. Now you have a pandemic, a lot of people trying to social distance - it's not clear if you can reach these folks.
And they're very likely disproportionally to be people of color, renters, rural residents, historically undercounted groups. And when the Census Bureau cannot ultimately reach these groups through in-person interviews, the bureau has to rely on other methods, including using, for example, statistical methods to try to impute information based on government records. And that way of imputing information is likely to overrepresent the white population and underrepresent historically undercounted populations, including people of color.
INSKEEP: Hadn't some people in Congress actually been talking about giving the Census Bureau more time rather than less time because of the pandemic?
WANG: Yes. Democrats have been responding to requests put out by the Census Bureau back in April to extend the legal reporting deadlines for census results. And that would allow the bureau to continue counting through October and then ultimately deliver the results in 2021. But Republicans have not moved forward with any bills. And in the latest relief proposal, there's no mention of extending census deadlines. So at this point, the Census Bureau has a looming deadline, December 31, for new state population counts to be delivered to the president.
INSKEEP: President Trump some months ago was saying, obviously, the census is going to need more time. Is there any sense of where the White House stands on giving it less time?
WANG: I've been asking that question of the White House press office, have not been getting an on-the-record response. And it's unclear. It's interesting. President Trump did say that Congress essentially didn't have a choice back in April, that this had to be done. And now we're at a point where nothing is being done, and the Census Bureau is stuck with just a few weeks left.
INSKEEP: And a shorter deadline to count people face to face. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, thank you so much.
WANG: You're welcome.
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