According to the U.S. Census, roughly 20 percent of La Paz County’s residents disappeared from towns like Parker and Quartzsite between 2010 and 2020. The idea is “ludicrous”, County Supervisor Duce Minor responded last summer when the numbers were announced. But the Trump administration’s interference for political reasons makes the inaccuracy in the 2020 Census an even bigger issue than one affecting La Paz County alone.
The new figures from 2020 say that La Paz County has a population of 16,557, down from 20,489 a decade earlier. But even the Census Bureau’s own estimates for the county’s population would seem to dispute the census. The Bureau in 2019 estimated a growth in La Paz’s population, to 21,108, rather than a reduction.
Why it matters: The results of the census play a key role in determining how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are spent for a decade, including grants and support to states, counties and communities. It helps communities get their fair share for schools, hospitals, roads, public works, programs and more. The numbers are also used by nonprofit organizations and even big corporations to make decisions on where to allocate resources.
Former President Trump, who had a limited window of opportunity for his administration to attempt to radically reshape the futures of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College, pushed the Census Bureau to rush the count and cut short the time for doing their job during a pandemic year. The moves sparked public outcries, including a federal lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Bureau’s Deputy Director Ron Jarmin said in a private September 2020 email to civil servants that the administration was demonstrating an “unusually” high level of “engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented relative to the previous censuses.” The document, first reported by the New York Times, details the wide scope of the administration’s interference, which included interventions in methodologies and procedures for filling in data gaps, reviewing the counts for errors and protecting the confidentiality of people’s information. The administration wanted to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census counts and generally have a Republican-favoring result.
The findings of a followup survey of Americans by the Bureau itself was released a few weeks ago, suggesting a lot of inaccuracy in the results of the 2020 Census nationwide, not just in La Paz County. The census has “a pretty good chance of being the least accurate census in modern memory,” according to William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. It also had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans.
The consequences for La Paz County just became manifest in the first tangible way, when the questionable new population numbers triggered redistricting. Under the rules, district boundaries can remain set in place for as long as the population does not change 5 percent in either an upward or downward direction. But since the Trump census numbers say that the county population declined by around 20 percent, the maps now need to be redrawn.
The first step in the process will be using outside consultants to bring maps to the Board of Supervisors for their input, followed by a public comment period and further steps.
La Paz County was already the second-smallest county in the state of Arizona, with one of the oldest populations in the nation, and it suffers from a chronic underfunding issue due to its extremely high percentage of public lands and corresponding low tax base.