Frightening, confusing, and limiting the ability of immigrants to participate in the 2020 Census in Pennsylvania is akin to killing the goose that lays golden eggs.
A citizenship question will not be on the 2020 Census, relieving some concerns of noncitizens that their response to the census will be punished. But confusion around the process abounds. Even though the Supreme Court stopped President Donald Trump from adding the question to the 2020 Census, he has continually yo-yoed with alternating pronouncements about the issue. These statements, and his vague mandate for states to collect citizenship information in other ways, spread doubts about the constitutionally mandated process that is required to include immigrants, notwithstanding laws protecting the anonymity of census respondents and regulating the sharing of personal census information among federal agencies.
In this climate of fear it is important that Pennsylvania do everything possible to assuage immigrants’ concerns about the census. The commonwealth risks losing political power in Washington and its proportionate share of federal funding if every resident is not counted.
This is especially relevant when it comes to immigrants, who prevented population loss in 19 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, according to a 2019 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline initiative. Clearfield, Erie, Indiana, Lycoming, Somerset, and Snyder Counties were among the communities where influxes of immigrants between 2017 and 2018 cut population loss by at least 10%. Hispanics in particular have played a major part. A series of 2018 articles in the Daily Item, a newspaper serving the central Susquehanna Valley, highlighted this trend: “Pennsylvania’s Hispanic population has increased by 137 percent — up 540,000 in the past 17 years — with even higher increases in three of four Valley counties in the same time frame.”
Pennsylvania’s political power in Washington is at stake — the 2020 Census will be used to apportion the number of representatives in Congress. The 2010 Census apportioned 18 seats in the House of Representatives to Pennsylvania. That and its two senators give the commonwealth 20 Electoral College votes. A 2017 analysis of U.S. population projections by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm, estimates that Pennsylvania may lose a representative in Congress even if the 2020 Census goes smoothly. That is because other states are growing faster than ours. Refusing to clear immigrants’ doubts about participating in the 2020 Census in Pennsylvania threatens steeper losses in congressional representation and Electoral College clout.
Ensuring that immigrants are counted in Pennsylvania will also limit losses in the state’s federal funding. According to a May report by the George Washington Institute for Public Policy, each Pennsylvania resident counted in the census represents roughly $3,058 in federal funding per year.
The loss of this funding will make serving the poor in Pennsylvania more difficult. This would be especially devastating for the Hispanic community, as the poverty rate for Hispanics 17 and younger is 37%.
But a shortfall affects every Pennsylvanian. Take the development of workers, businesses, and entrepreneurs in the state. Federal grants to Pennsylvania affected by a census undercount include: Federal Direct Student Loans, USDA Business and Industry Loans, and Federal Transit Formula Grants. To ignore the importance of counting immigrants in the census specifically ignores how vital they have been to the economy of Pennsylvania. A 2016 report by the New American Economy stated that Pennsylvania immigrants earned $25.8 billion in income 2014 alone, $2.1 billion of which went to state and local taxes, and $5 billion went to federal taxes — leaving them with $18.6 billion in spending power across the state.
The 2020 Census is another golden opportunity for Pennsylvania to benefit from the contributions of its immigrant communities. Let’s not let Pennsylvania cut off its nose to spite its face because of an irrational, ill-informed, or simply racist fear of immigrants.
We won a battle, but we can still lose the Census War that President Trump has waged against immigrants. Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania legislature should do everything possible to ensure a complete 2020 Census count in the Keystone State. This includes providing the funding necessary to help every county in Pennsylvania support its own complete count committee. To do otherwise is to be complicit in carrying out xenophobic policies that harm everyone in the state.
Will Gonzalez is executive director of Ceiba, a community-based organization in Philadelphia’s Latino community, and is the chair of the Immigrant and Limited English Proficient Population Subcommittee of Philadelphia’s Complete Count Committee.