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How Does the 2020 Decennial Census Differ from Previously Conducted Censuses?

TUESDAY, OCT 05, 2021

The 2020 Census represents an evolution of the decennial headcount in some ways; in others, it’s a devolution. It asks the same questions as the previous Census and adds space for Black and white people to describe their race in more detail (i.e., Caribbean, Irish, and so forth).

From a historical perspective, the 2020 Census continues to evolve. Consider the nation’s first Census in 1790 had the same basic categories, with the exception of a native/foreign-born and slave category. Its racial categories also were limited to white and non-white; the 2020 Census includes white, Black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, other, and multiracial. 

The 2020 Census diverges from its predecessors in its attempt to alter the results with a process known as differential privacy. Although the risks of people breaching Census data are small and limited in their ability to cause personal injury—since most of the decennial results are usually obvious (race) or easily discovered (homeownership)—the Census Bureau is moving people among different geographies, ostensibly to protect their privacy. 

While the efforts to ensure privacy are laudatory, the shifting of populations has created demographic anomalies, such as neighborhoods populated only by children, areas where there are no racial or ethnic differences, or areas where racial differences could affect the redrawing of voting districts that generally occurs every decade.

Author: Frank Bass

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