Fears rise of a minority undercount
The Census Bureau recently decided to forego the extra time it requested to collect the 2020 national census and have now declared the census will end on September 30, a month earlier than previously announced. This is unwelcome news in Communities of Color and immigrant communities that have been historically undercounted in the census.
The Bureau had appealed to Congress in April saying that it needed to extend the deadline for the count until October 31 and that it needed to extend by four months the December 31 deadline for the census data to completed and compiled. The request for the extension was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed responses and made follow-up difficult.
The numbers from the census, which happens every 10 years, are used to determine how nearly $1.5 trillion in federal funds get allocated as well as how electoral districts are drawn for the next decade. The Census Bureau estimated that in the 2000 and 2010 count, African Americans were undercounted by about 800,000. According to projections by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan national think tank, it is possible that African Americans could be undercounted by 11,000.
“If we get an undercount, it means our community doesn’t get what it needs,” explained Anika Robbins, CEO and president of the Anika Foundation. Robbins is presently a consultant on the census with Hennepin County. “We were undercounted in 2010, and Black men were undercounted even more.
“About $28,000 is attached to each count,” Robbins said. “If we lose numbers, we also lose Congressional seats, and there are millions of dollars connected to that seat.”
The shortened deadline will likely hurt efforts to reach those who have not yet responded to census inquiries. The census uses what it calls a non-response follow-up (NRFU) to reach out to people who have not filled out census information. The bureau sends its employees to knock on doors and follow up with those who have not responded, especially in hard-to-count areas.
Supporters of the census effort are concerned that shortening the deadline will make it more difficult for the bureau to conduct its follow-up, which is especially needed in communities where counting has been challenging.
Adding to the challenge of reaching poor neighborhoods and immigrant communities is the Trump administration’s attempt to politicize the census earlier this year when he sought to include a question about U.S. citizenship. The census is required by the U.S. Constitution to count everyone in the country, not just citizens. However, the Trump administration has pressed on with its agenda and asked the bureau not to count the undocumented. That charge is being challenged in U.S. federal court as unconstitutional.
According to the bureau, as of August 4, nearly 63% of U.S. households had responded to the census. But some large U.S. cities such as Detroit reported that only half of their population had self-responded to census requests.
According to Robbins, Minnesota is leading the nation with a response rate over 70%. Of those yet uncounted, she said, “Latino brothers and sisters are afraid of deportation. For Black people, it is about distrust of government. People don’t know if the information will be shared with the FBI or ICE. The Census Bureau says it’s safe and secure and the information is not shared. But do people trust that?
“COVID hit when we were starting to hit the ground running with our grassroots events. We have been slowly getting back out since June. We sent out direct mail and we phone banked,” said Robbins of ongoing census efforts.
Federal law requires the Census Bureau to report data for apportionment by December 31, a deadline the bureau has said it plans to meet.