Test shows little impact of citizenship on census form

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Including a citizenship question didn't have much of an impact on overall response rates on a test for the 2020 Census, though responses by people who identified as Hispanic were down slightly, according to preliminary results released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau started sending out the test questionnaires in mid-June to 480,000 addresses as part of an effort to fine-tune planning for the 2020 head count next spring. Half of the questionnaires had a question asking for citizenship information, and the other half didn't.

At the time, the bureau didn't know if the question would be allowed since it was being litigated between the Trump administration, which was pushing for the question, and civil rights groups and several Democratic state attorneys who opposed it saying it would reduce participation by Hispanics and immigrant groups. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that the question couldn't be on the 2020 questionnaire.

The results of the test would have been used to help the Census Bureau deploy staffing in areas where self-response rates were low.

"Had the citizenship question been included in the 2020 Census, it would not have affected staffing needs," wrote Victoria Velkoff, the bureau's associate director for demographic programs, in a blog post.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said, "While there is no question on the 2020 Census related to citizenship, this is gratifying news to those who supported its inclusion."

The response rate was 52% for forms that didn't have the citizenship question and 51.5% for forms that included the citizenship question. Response rates are expected to be higher next spring because of advertising campaigns and greater public awareness, the bureau said.

There were no differences in age or race of respondents between the two different forms, but there was a 0.3% difference in the proportion of respondents who identified as Hispanic, the bureau said.

After the Supreme Court rejected putting a citizenship question on the 2020 questionnaire, President Donald Trump in July signed an executive order requiring citizenship information to be gathered through federal and state administrative records.

It would be wrong to conclude from the test results that having a citizenship question on the 2020 form would be impact-free because the sample of respondents was small and the test was planned "late in the game," said Andrea Senteno, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is challenging Trump's executive order.

"All of that cuts against any reading that this test was complete and well-planned out enough to actually gauge if the citizenship question would have had an impact on the 2020 Census," Senteno said.

Dale Ho of the ACLU Voting Rights Project noted that all other research by the Census Bureau had shown that adding a citizenship question would depress responses among noncitizens and Hispanics.

Separately, a new report released Thursday said the Census Bureau is on track to meet key deadlines ahead of next spring's massive head count, but the agency faces delays in building a temporary workforce that eventually could number as many as a half-million people.

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office also says the bureau still has critical work to do in making sure its information technology systems are secure and tested for the 2020 census.

Hiring for early operations has been slowed because of delays in background checks and a higher than expected rate of people who were hired but then dropped out, according to the GAO.

The Census Bureau plans to recruit more applicants and expand the number of locations applicants can get fingerprinted for background checks, according to the report.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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