Since the Constitution first instructed that a slave be counted as only three-fifths of a person, the census has been caught up in America’s racial dilemmas. The 2000 Census is torn by controversies over affirmative action, evolving racial identities, and minority undercounts. The Brookings Institution will host a timely press briefing to consider these and other issues raised by Peter Skerry in his new book, Counting on the Census? Race, Group Identity, and the Evasion of Politics.
Following Peter Skerry’s presentation, Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, Director of the Census Bureau, will offer his views on the controversial census issues, and will participate in a discussion.
Skerry argues that census questions about race are appropriate, and that the census is an inherently political undertaking, not a scientific enterprise. To those who call for statistical adjustment to remedy minority undercounts, Skerry declares that the stakes, both for political parties and for minority groups, are misunderstood and exaggerated.
Acknowledging that the census is critical to the administration of policies affecting minorities, Skerry nevertheless calls for greater realism about the limited accuracy of census data in a society where racial and ethnic identities are more blurred than ever–and for greater tolerance of the untidy politics involved in collecting data by race and ethnicity. The alternative, he warns, is an arcane statistical procedure that threatens to frustrate the political aspirations of disadvantaged minorities and to undermine public confidence in one of the most fundamental functions of government. Perhaps most provocatively, he contends that battling over census adjustment distracts us from the real challenges of empowering the disadvantaged.