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Mass incarceration is fun!

The Supreme Court will decide fairly soon whether a question on citizenship will be included on the Census, so that Hispanics can be vastly undercounted, leading to reduced representation in Congress for the next decade, not to mention all sorts of fun budget fuckery. But even before that question is decided, the Right is already thinking up exciting new ways to scare certain people away from the decennial population count. Like how about including some questions about whether people have criminal records? Don't worry, it's not about making minorities and poors fear the Census, it's about, um, let's say, err, helping people who've been incarcerated get jobs, yeah that's it.

At a hearing held by the Joint Economic Committee Wednesday, an expert from the American Enterprise Institute, Nicholas Eberstadt, explained how including some questions about Americans' criminal histories, if any, would allow the government to help.


It is shocking -- I would dare say shameful -- that our statistical system should so entirely neglect the plight of this huge, stigmatized, and disadvantaged population in our society [...]

We have a chance to end this statistical darkness. Including just one or two questions on criminal justice system history in the American Community Survey could end this not-so-benign neglect.

We haven't reviewed the CSPAN video of the hearing, but we're fairly certain Eberstadt must have been wearing a special edition George HW Bush "Message: I Care" tee. And only a very cynical person could think that such a proposal could possibly be made in bad faith -- after all, as Reuters helpfully points out, Eberstadt "wrote a book about male underemployment," so he and the rightwing think tank he works for can only have pure motives. Also? In that book, he blames the Great Society for creating dependence and frets about how women working may affect "those who nature designed to be strong" when they're cast "into the role of dependents." But he definitely does say mass incarceration is bad, too, so yay? Even if Eberstadt means well, you'll forgive us if we're skeptical about how Republicans might use the Census to gather such information.

The idea also has a proponent in Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who chairs the committee.

"How many people are out of the labor force because of their criminal records?" Lee asked [...]

Finding the answer might help policymakers "identify what impact our laws might be having on them that ... we didn't intend," he added.

Why yes, just like asking about citizenship would help the Trump administration enforce the Voting Rights Act, one of its top priorities. And constantly tightening requirements for voting would reduce "voter fraud," you bet. Only a crazy person would see any other motive at work. Any suggestion that this is all aimed at the intended consequence of diminishing representation for brown and black people is crazy conspiracy-mongering.

That just goes without saying, and please ignore the estimates that a citizenship question could lead to an undercount of over four million Latinos nationwide, OK? If people decide not to participate in the Census, that's their own lookout, just like lazyboneses who don't have the wherewithal to prove their citizenship or have a fixed street address shouldn't be allowed to vote. But it's OK for the Right to frame it that way, so get ready for the "Democrats afraid Census will reduce their support from criminals" headlines at Breitbart.

Now, a couple things are worth noting here: As Reuters notes, it's definitely too late to add such a question to the 2020 Census. And the particular measure that Eberstadt mentioned in his testimony, the American Community Survey, is different from the every-10-years count that's used to determine which states gain or lose seats -- it's a more in-depth survey that's given to far fewer people, more often, and generates data used widely by businesses and researchers of all sorts.

In theory, it could be used for good, just as in a vacuum, wanting to make sure voting rolls are "accurate" is a good nonpartisan idea. But of course Republican fuckery with the levers of government doesn't happen in a vacuum, and it's pretty obvious this is just one more brilliant idea to nudge at the Overton Window, so don't be at all surprised when Fox News starts insisting we need an accurate count of formerly incarcerated folks and why are Dems afraid of helping the poors, look at the hypocrisy!

Mind you, the vice chair of the committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), cautioned against rigging the Census in any way that would result in a bad count, because Statistics Fucking Matter:

Getting the count wrong would be costly with far-reaching effects on nearly every segment of the population and on nearly every industry in our economy [...] We would be misallocating resources through misguided business investments and poorly targeted government expenditures. We would be using flawed data as the basis for making and evaluating decisions. And we would be doing this for a decade.

And one of the witnesses invited by Democrats, George Washington University prof Andrew Reamer (who somehow survived junior high school with that name -- it only made him stronger), pointed out that creating a climate of fear is not good for statistical accuracy:

"The Census Bureau's own research has shown there's a climate of fear," said Reamer, noting that some participants in test surveys had "run out of the room" when asked about citizenship.

Why, yes. That is precisely the point. All in all, we think we prefer the days when wingnuts feared the Census would be used to round up Christians to put in FEMA reeducation camps.

[Intercept / Reuters]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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