I’m sorry to leave this till the last minute, but there are just over 24 hours left to make public comments on an important mistake that the US Census Bureau is set on making. The Bureau has proposed, over the objections of many of its own staff, to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 survey. This is a terrible idea which is almost certain to cause immigrants to be undercounted because of fear, especially in the context of the vicious hostility the US has been displaying against immigrants over the past couple of years. Even if that were an unintended consequence, it would be reason enough to oppose this change, but there is also strong reason to believe it’s being done in bad faith. Meanwhile, the 2020 Census was already in danger from good old fashioned neglect, underfunding and incompetence, problems that will only be compounded by adding a question that discourages responses.
As someone who uses Census statistics regularly in my work, I am concerned that if this is allowed to go through it will leave us unable to rely on the 2020 count as the accurate snapshot we depend on it being. As a citizen and resident of this country, I am afraid that what we’re seeing is a deliberate attempt to skew future elections and federal government resource allocations by systematically undercounting the population of areas with more immigrants.
If you read this in time, please make a public comment. It doesn’t have to be a long reasoned argument—even just saying “please don’t add the citizenship question” may be worth something—but here’s what I wrote, trying to put it in terms that the Census Bureau is officially supposed to care about, in case it helps you to write yours: Continue reading “My comments on the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the US Census”
9 years ago, I was part of a small team that founded what is now Happiness Alliance. Our goal was to get happiness taken seriously as the primary objective of public policy, instead of the status quo in which governments maximise economic indicators without questioning whether they are even good metrics of the economy, never mind why we prioritise the economy above everything else in life. This is not a new idea; in fact I still think Bobby Kennedy said it best in 1968:
…Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile….
And yet, four decades later we still encountered endless skepticism about the whole idea. Those who accepted the premise kept telling us that it was futile because public policy interventions never make a measurable difference to happiness anyway.
Sadly, recent work by the Happiness Alliance (I am no longer involved, but cheer them on from the sidelines) has proven the skeptics wrong in the most negative way possible. We can now clearly see that the grinding awfulness of 2017 was not just in my head or my social circle, but has added up to a measurable decrease in self-reported happiness:
There are a couple of important caveats to understand here:
- This is a “convenience sample”, meaning it has not been weighted to be fully representative of the population –but there’s no reason to expect that 2017’s sample will have new or different biases, having been recruited in the same ways as previous years’.
- We don’t know where every survey taker was, so it’s impossible to compare US-based respondents with those elsewhere –but we do know that the vast majority of respondents are in the US.
It’s not a huge effect size—only 5-6%—but it is highly statistically significant, and when I remember all the people saying we’d never see any changes at all I can’t help but be impressed. And glad that this thing I helped start has had the staying power to be able to look at trends over years.