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Counting On The Census? Race, Group Identity, And The Evasion Of Politics
by Peter Skerry
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Since the Constitution first instructed that a slave be counted only as three-fifths of a person, the census has been caught up in America's racial dilemmas. Today it is torn by controversies over affirmative action, evolving racial identities, and minority undercounts. Counting on the Census? tackles each of these controversies. Peter 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 shows 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 fluid 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.
About the Author
Peter Skerry is a non-resident senior fellow in the Governmental Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and teaches political science at Claremont McKenna College. He is author of the award-winning Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority (Harvard University Press, 1995).
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