Our Opinion: Undermining of census a Berkshire concern

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The census isn't a topic on most people's front burner. The decennial national head count, however, is important to every American because it enumerates the residents in a geographic area, which determines representation at the state and federal level. It also acts as the gold-standard statistic for apportionment of government funds.

The Trump administration made an effort to leave its biased fingerprints on the census with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' maladroit attempt to add a citizenship question to the form. Two separate federal courts found his reasoning — that its inclusion was to protect the Voting Rights Act — to be a mere pretext, and one ruled that he acted "arbitrarily and capriciously." The citizenship question, if included, will reduce the number of immigrants (both documented and undocumented) who respond to the census out of fear of deportation, thereby lowering the count of states with large immigrant populations, perhaps reducing their congressional representation and, in a domino effect, shrinking the influence of blue states on the Electoral College vote for president.

Lest complacent Berkshirites delude themselves into thinking this is merely a Washington bureaucratic squabble, they should remind themselves that they live in an area of the country with a shrinking population, and that immigrants comprise the only cohort showing significant growth (thereby slowing the loss). The Berkshires and the Massachusetts federal delegation already lost a member of Congress as a result of the 2010 count..

Berkshire County currently receives $280 million in federal funds for such varied programs as medical assistance and highway planning and construction — an amount that could drop if the local population is undercounted. The state also uses census figures for roads and school funding apportionment. Compounding the problem is that the closest census office will now be located in Worcester, depriving the Berkshires of its own office as has been the case in the past.

A public attitude of census participation is of utmost importance. Local residents should not only be sure to respond and encourage their neighbors to respond, but they should seek to reassure those who came from other lands that the census is not designed to root them out of our society. Several local organizations are rallying to ensure the accuracy of next year's count. The historic purpose of the census is to count everyone in the country regardless of whether they are here with documentation or not. That should not change next year, or ever.

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