There's Less Manpower And Way Less Money
Traditionally, census data is gathered in two ways: forms are mailed to people's homes, and if those don't get a response, a volunteer pays them a visit to get their data. In recent censuses, however, we're seeing a lot fewer people returning their postal forms. The mail-in response rate for the 2010 census, for instance, was only 63 percent. Which means that we're becoming increasingly reliant on house calls. Now, the 2010 census spent a lot of energy recruiting volunteers from vulnerable, underrepresented, and/or marginalized communities to give them an "in" that could result in a more accurate count. But due to massive budget cuts, we're going to have 200,000 fewer volunteers walking the streets for the 2020 census. So each volunteer is going to be dealing with a significantly larger share of the country's demographic of fucking crazy people, and we're also going to be missing huge swathes of the population because there'll be no one to follow up with them.
Michael/Adobe StockThis doesn't even factor in the 57 hours it takes to get from one house to the next in Wyoming.
This is a bad thing for a census.
The census, believe it or not, isn't just some tedious government box-ticking exercise. It's incredibly important in deciding how federal funds are distributed among states for things like welfare programs, healthcare, schools, public housing, and infrastructure. Ironically, Congress has been underfunding the Census Bureau itself for the last several years, which has impacted efforts to test and roll out plans for the 2020 census. In 2018, Congress finally gave them a decent budget ... but only enough to provide the "minimum resources needed to prepare for its constitutional mandate." In other words, enough money to do the absolute minimum to ensure that the founding fathers don't rise from their graves and beat Wilbur Ross' ass.
It's all sounding pretty grim so far, but good news! There's an online system that's going to solve all of these problems!
There's A New Online System That Should Worry ... Everybody
The Census Bureau is hoping that they'll be able to mitigate some of their many, many shortfalls by giving people the ability to fill out their census forms online. To that end, every household will be sent a postcard containing a unique code they can use to get on the census website, which is a tragic misunderstanding of everything internet.
It doesn't help that nobody wants to commit any money to make sure this thing actually works (*cough*). Those pesky aforementioned budget cuts mean that the system hasn't been tested in any meaningful way. Of the three live tests the Census Bureau planned for the system, two had to be scrapped. But hey, one out of three ain't bad.
U.S. Census BureauOh wait, yes, that is objectively and provably bad.