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Opinion | Why Does Trump Want an Inaccurate Census?

It’s also what led Mr. Trump to issue an executive order last month excluding all undocumented immigrants from the census reapportionment process. This past Thursday, a unanimous three-judge panel in Federal District Court in New York struck down the order, saying that the case was “not particularly close or complicated.” This is true. The Constitution explicitly requires that the census count all “persons” — not just all citizens, or all white people, or all Trump supporters.

Mr. Trump’s effort to stop the census count early in the middle of a pandemic is of a piece with this campaign of exclusion. The people who are most likely to be uncounted — those from marginalized, poor or otherwise hard-to-reach communities — are those whom the president considers undeserving of equal treatment.

But like any rush job, this is going to lead to major problems for everyone, as bureau officials have admitted in public and in private. In July, Albert Fontenot Jr., the census’s associate director, said, “We are past the window of being able to get those counts” by the end of 2020. Earlier this month, the House Oversight Committee flagged an internal Census Bureau document, which it received from a whistle-blower and which warned that the “highly compressed schedule” will “reduce accuracy” and “creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data.”

These errors aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. They have consequences for real people’s lives. Of the more than $1.5 trillion in federal funding allocated to the states based on census data, 75 percent goes to Medicare and Medicaid, according to Andrew Reamer, a research professor at George Washington University who studies the use and impact of census data.

Census data will be especially important over the next decade as the country confronts the long-term public health impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This will include, among other things, tracking the incidence of the virus, conducting epidemiological research and providing funds for medical equipment.

Such data are also essential to the functioning of the national economy. They provide large and small businesses with information about work forces and markets. They drive federal regulation of small-business loans, home mortgages and equal-employment practices.

“If someone wanted to screw up the American economy, a great way to do it is to screw up the census,” Mr. Reamer said. “There is no better, quicker way to make sure we’re wasting a lot of money and losing jobs.”

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