June 20, 2018 12:48 pm News Staff – As Civics 101 commitments go, taking part in the census is gratifyingly easy. Unlike voting, participation in the U.S. government's once-a-decade headcount requires no preregistration and doesn't test one's knowledge of issues or candidates. And it certainly doesn't involve the isolation and tedium typical of jury duty.
Despite the seeming simplicity of the census, though, the country's collective well-being hinges on it. To properly allocate some $675 billion in annual federal funding to states and communities -- resources devoted to health care, education and housing, among other programs -- the government depends on every census respondent to provide complete and honest answers to the survey's basic questions.
Yet a potential hurdle exists in the 2020 census that the U.S. Census Bureau itself acknowledges: For the first time, the bureau plans to gather most of its responses online rather than on paper. That prospect has sparked concern among some consumer watchdog agencies and other organizations, including the AAFP.
Specifically, the bureau's 2020 operational overview lists data quality among the project's risk factors, noting as "moderately likely" the possibility that "innovations implemented to meet the 2020 Census cost goals result in unanticipated negative impacts to data quality."
According to a 2017 analysis of the bureau's plan published by civil-rights research group the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, "Technological failures could compromise data quality and cybersecurity. Populations at risk of being undercounted are also among the most likely to face tenuous and insecure access to the internet and other new technologies, making responding more burdensome and more open to danger from hackers and malware.
"Data quality is also at risk because vulnerable communities, especially those who are caught in the crosshairs of current political and social tensions, may distrust the new methodologies."
With these factors in mind, the AAFP conceived and introduced a resolution titled "Maintaining Validity and Comprehensiveness of U.S. Census Data" during the annual meeting of the AMA House of Delegates in Chicago this month.
The resolution, which was co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Physicians, called for the AMA to "support adequate funding for the U.S. Census to assure accurate and relevant data is collected and disseminated."
In their report recommending the resolution's adoption, reference committee members stated: "While our AMA has no policy related to the U.S. Census, our AMA has numerous policies related to addressing health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations, including Hispanics, African-Americans, American Indians, and women. Your Reference Committee believes that adoption of this resolution would be consistent with the goals of these policies."
AMA delegates adopted the census measure unchanged.