Fear could further compromise 2020 Census

Communities of color historically undercounted


Census 2020

Although over two years away, work has begun on the 2020 U.S. Census and fear of filling out Census forms is already at play among persons of color, the MSR discovered in a May 1 ethnic media teleconference discussing 2020 Census key milestones.

The one-hour media briefing was led by Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former House Census subcommittee staff director and Leadership Conference Education Fund consultant, and Joseph Salvo, a New York City population official. They both explained that all state, local and tribal governments are now working on the Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) list to check and review all addresses for their jurisdiction in order to ensure an accurate count for their communities.

This accounts for “literally every single address for every housing unit in the jurisdictions, and officials have 120 days to review that list,” Salvo explained. He added that all deletions and other changes must be completed and submitted to the Census Bureau by the end of June. The Bureau in 2019 will resend the LUCA lists for any additions, such as new housing construction.

Much is at stake: An accurate Census count helps determine congressional districts, Electoral College votes, and government funding allocations.

However, Census accuracy since 1940 “has shown a persistent, disproportionate undercount of certain population subgroups,” says a fact sheet by the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), a coalition of philanthropic organizations. It noted, for example, that 13 percent of Black men ages 21 to 35 were not counted.

Communities of color are historically undercounted in the Census, Salvo pointed out. “The African American population in the 2010 Census was undercounted by 2.1 percent, the Hispanic population by 1.5 percent, renters by 1.1 percent and seniors 50 and older were over-counted by 2.4 percent.” He added that young children historically could be undercounted “as much as five percent.”

Among the 100 largest U.S. places with Blacks living in “hard-to-count” Census tracts, Minnesota is 34th among U.S. states, Minneapolis 53rd and St. Paul 81st among cities, according to the Center for Urban Research (CUR).

The “Census Act”, passed in 1954, states that all Census responses must be held confidential and cannot be used “to hurt anyone or their family from a legal standpoint” by any government agencies, such as Immigration, Lowenthal noted. But, she and Salvo both admit that the fear of filling out Census forms does exist among persons of color, especially immigrants.

“There is a climate of fear that preceded the citizenship question” proposed for the 2020 Census questionnaire, Lowenthal said.

Asked how to better inform and educate Blacks and other people of color on the importance of the Census, Salvo told the MSR, “The thing that concerns us the most is the under-representation politically and…[federal] funding that has not gone to communities that need the help the most. We need to adopt a stronger message that if you don’t answer the Census, you are shortchanged in a major way.”

“We know that Black men have disproportionally high rates of undercounting,” added Lowenthal. “It’s the difference between accuracy of the count for the Black population [and] for Black men, and the over-count of non-Hispanic Whites that really have consequences for the fair distribution of political representation all the way from Congress to city council and school boards, as well as [the] allocation of real, vital program dollars, resources and business investment.”

There were almost 500 Local Census Offices (LCOs) nationwide for the 2010 Census, which hired staff and conducted visits to households that did not respond to the Census. As many as 1.2 million people were hired over the course of that Census. However, these offices are being cut nearly in half for 2020; the plan is to open only 248 Area Census Offices (ACOs).

Locally, Minnesota may see a reduction of five ACOs. Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester are among the proposed ACO locations for 2020.

Lowenthal and Salvo both stressed the need of “trusted messages and trusted voices” at the local level in all Census activities. “We have to have people from the neighborhood working in these neighborhoods,” said Salvo. A “very robust” outreach campaign, especially to communities of color, is needed, added Lowenthal.


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