What do a superhero without superpowers, an aspiring serial killer, a coked-up mouse and a late-night host all have in common? They all want you to fill out your census forms, as John Oliver encouraged on Sunday’s season finale of Last Week Tonight.
The census comes around at the start of each decade so that the U.S. government can get a comprehensive count of every single person living in the U.S. The stats on who lives where help communities determine how much money they need to devote to different necessities such as new roads, schools and emergency services. The census is understandably tricky to employ as some groups are obviously hard to count, and it is hard to get people to fill out the forms in their free time. The government hires about half a million temporary workers to undertake the feat, which is literally written as necessary in the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau is severely underfunded, and if it was up to Donald Trump, they’d lose their funding altogether.
The census data plays into politics because it is used to evenly allot the correct number of representatives to each state. Undercounts are obviously detrimental on state and community levels: An incorrect count can lead to underfunding and losing a representative in Congress, so every person’s contribution is vital. Unfortunately, undocumented people have been scared away from participating due to a Republican-proposed citizenship question. After deliberation, the citizenship question will not be on the 2020 census, but the atmosphere of fear has already been established and will prove to be very hard to eradicate. Oliver shows footage of late Republican National Committee Redistricting Director Tom Hofeller attempting to joke, “in redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters,” with a sadistic grin. “He’s reciting major systemic problems with the cadence of a joke,” Oliver says, “which was incidentally the original title of this program.”
Bad, bad jokes aside, experts are worried the 2020 census will lead to a huge undercount, which makes this Oliver segment particularly important. Oliver assures viewers that the Bureau is by law required to keep all information taken private for 72 years, but the effects of the census will not just be felt in our lifetimes, but much, much sooner than that.
Watch the video below.