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Feb 1, 2020

Don’t count on the census

Co-produced with PRX Logo

The 2020 census will make a huge imprint on the nation for a decade, from determining how much federal money goes to states to divvying up congressional seats and helping city planners figure out where to build schools. But experts warn this census is doomed to be inaccurate because of a poor rollout and a swirl of controversy over a citizenship question proposed by the Trump administration. 

We start with an overview of the challenges the census faced even before the citizenship question came into play. Soaring costs and hard-to-count communities prompted the Census Bureau to come up with high-tech solutions to “save” the census. But will they be enough?

Then we look at how two states are dealing with the prospect of an inaccurate count. On one hand, California is dedicating more than $180 million to funding grassroots efforts to educate the public, especially Latino communities that were put off by the citizenship controversy. On the other hand, in Texas, GOP legislators have scuttled a similar statewide initiative. 

We close with a look at how mass incarceration of African Americans is skewing the census count. In Wisconsin and other states, prisoners are counted in the districts where they serve time instead of where they come from. This has the effect of shifting political power away from black urban communities and to rural white ones.



This week’s show was produced by Priska Neely and edited by Taki Telonidis. Reported by Matt Smith with Priska Neely. They had help from Lance Williams, Esther Kaplan, Will Carless and Radio Bilingue. 

Our story about prison gerrymandering was reported and produced by Natasha Haverty. Production help from Lucie Sullivan, Robin DiGiacinto, and Claire Hyman. Data help from Jared Knowles of Civilytics Consulting. Produced with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Najib Aminy and Amy Mostafa. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our host is Al Letson. 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.