Number of the week

Brazil will postpone its census for yet another year

Last year, the pandemic stopped the 2020 survey from taking place. This year, the Bolsonaro administration blames a lack of funds

Census is the best way for a government to know its population. Photo: Bruno Concha/Secom/SSA
Censuses are the best way for a government to know its population. Photo: Bruno Concha/Secom/SSA
budget cut to Brazil's statistics agency

Welcome to “Number of the Week,” where we choose a single figure that helps understand what is going on in Brazil. This week’s number explains the damaging consequences of putting off Brazil’s census for yet another year.

Almost four full months into the year, Brazil finally has a budget for 2021. President Jair Bolsonaro reached an agreement with Congress according to which a massive amount of money will remain allocated to budgetary grants (chunks of the budget over which congresspeople have discretion). The budget also gave the administration more autonomy to carry out budget cuts. 

One of the victims of this deal was the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, whose funding was cut from BRL 2 billion (BRL 364 million) to just BRL 71 million — a 96-percent decrease.

Why it matters. Barely having the resources to keep up its current activities, the institute will be unable to carry out the nationwide census this year. Waldery Rodrigues, a special secretary at the Economy Ministry, confirmed on Friday that the 2020 Census will happen no earlier than 2022.

Flying blind. The census is a means for the government to understand the country. It is particularly important for municipalities, which rely on accurate census data for everything from infrastructure and public health planning to districting, business development, and for determining the allocation of federal funding across states and local governments.

Statistical blackout? Data from the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicator shows that Brazil’s perceived ability to produce reliable data decreased between 2004 and 2017. And that was before the recent cuts.

Down to the bone. Right now, Brazil’s official statistics agency has 583 regional offices across the country, of which 232 operate with only two people. Another 61 have only one staff member and could be closed down within the next few months. Since 2014, 16 agencies have been shuttered, with servants retiring and no one to replace them.

Not the first time. Brazil’s census has historically encountered many problems. In 1910, the survey was skipped due to a lack of organization. In 1930, a coup d’état halted the census. It took 18 years for the government to publish the findings of the 1960 survey. And the 1991 data was only published in 1994.