Counting on the Census?: Race, Group Identity, and the Evasion of Politics

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9780815779643: Counting on the Census?: Race, Group Identity, and the Evasion of Politics
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Since the U.S. 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. Today it is torn by controversies over affirmative action, evolving racial identities, and minority undercounts. In Counting on the Census? Peter Skerry confirms the persistence of minority undercounts and insists that racial and ethnic data are critical to the administration of policies affecting minorities. He rejects demands that the census stop collecting such data. But Skerry also rejects the view that the census is a scientific exercise best left to the experts, and argues that it is necessarily and properly a political undertaking. To those advocating statistical adjustment of the census, Skerry insists that the consequences of minority undercounts have been misunderstood and exaggerated, while the risks of adjustment have been overlooked. Scrutinizing the tendency to equate census numbers with political power, Skerry places census controversies in the broader context of contemporary American politics and society. He traces our preoccupation with minority undercounts to the pervasive logic of an administrative politics that emphasizes the formal representation of minority interests over minority political mobilization and participation. Rather than confront the genuine social and political problems of the disadvantaged, political elites turn to adjustment to tweak outcomes at the margin. In such a context, where ordinary Americans already feel bewildered by and excluded from politics, the arcane techniques of adjustment would undermine public confidence in this most fundamental function of government. Finally, in a society where racial and ethnic identities are more fluid than ever, Skerry calls for greater realism about the limited accuracy of census data—and for greater tolerance of the untidy politics that accompanies the diversity we have come to value.


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About the Author:

Peter Skerry is a non-resident senior fellow in the Governance 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).

Review:

"An indispensable contribution to understanding the significance of the census." —Alfred University, Choice, 10/11/2000



"A skillful and very timely history of the various controversies involving the census.... [A] sorely needed book." —Naomi Schaeffer, Commentary, Commentary, 10/24/2000



"delivers a solid analysis of [the census], and then uses the topic to make a similar but more sophisticated argument about the current state of American politics." —John Skrentny, University of California - San Diego, Society, 3/23/2001



"Not only is 'Counting on the Census' required reading for understanding the coming battles over reapportionment, it is also a splendid example of fair-minded analysis of racial politics." —Ken Masugi, Human Events, 7/1/2001



"[Skerry] is a rare instance of the scholar who uses his academic skills to enlighten public opinion on an issue crucial to the future of American self-government." —Ken Masugi, Claremont Institute, Perspectives on Political Science, 10/1/2001



"Counting on the Census is a splendid example of fair-minded analysis of racial politics.... a thoughtful reproach to those enemies of politics who attempt to transcend its partisanship by an allegedly 'scientific' standard." —KM, Claremont Review, 7/1/2001



"Skerry provides an abundance of data from census results that serve to support his opinions on census adjustment." —Tamara V. Townsend, National Journal, 5/31/2001



"This book, a product of substantial research, is well written and accessible to an informed layperson. There is clarity in his complex argument.... His synthetic treatment of a highly complex issue makes this book a useful addition to the corpus of research on the politics of the census." —Alice Robbin, Indiana University, Jornal of Government Information, 28: 2001

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