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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
The changing face of Texas
Asian Americans are the fourth largest and the fastest growing ethnic group in Texas, but a census delay could leave them out of the reckoning in the final census count.
Since 2006, Texas – the second largest state in the union – has been adding 1000 people a day to its population count says Dr. Lila Valencia of the Texas Demographic Center.
At an EMS tele-briefing on May 20 to understand what the delayed census count means for Texas and its immigrant population, Dr. Valencia pointed out that Texas now is the second most populous state in the country after California.
Domestic and international migration have contributed to the population explosion, she said, but, non-whites and minorities make up a significant proportion of the evolving demographic.
While 26% of the population are from non-white backgrounds (53% are of Hispanic origin), Asian Americans are the fourth largest and the fastest growing ethnic group in Texas.
Migration patterns show that the ‘face of the Texas immigrant is changing,” notes Dr. Valencia, with about 19% of new immigrants now arriving from Asian countries.
How the delay impacts Texas
Earlier in April, the US Census Bureau announced that they would delay operations till end October, a move that experts say will worsen the challenge for minorities trying to self-respond to the census. Studies show that self-response rates are lower for people of color due to economic hardships – pay gaps, poverty rates, and lack of insurance contribute to reduced civic engagement among minorities. The delay will exacerbate the undercount in low response populations says Katie Martin Lightfoot, a census community engagement coordinator at CPPP.
Working families, many from minority communities, rely on resource programs such as workforce assistance and healthcare which are funded by data derived from the census.
But, in the COVID era, many of these low response, hard to count families may be lost to an undercount perpetrated by the proposed delay.
Though more than half of households have self-responded to the census in Texas, the remainder of non-respondents are located in hard-to-reach counties that include children (under 5s), renters and non-English speakers in their ranks.
No longer can the census rely on enumerators knocking to doors to make sure that non-responders are included in the count.
Instead, outreach efforts will have to be reinvented due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, because in a pandemic with an extended deadline, hard to reach communities remain harder to count.
What’s at stake for Texas and its minorities?
The delay means losing momentum, potential funding and the safety net that these communities depend on for political representation, quality of life and public health and human services.
An undercount means that 300 million will be lost per year and “that’s a conservative estimate,” says Martin Lightfoot.
Fast growing counties and minority communities need representation; a delay could adversely affect their chances of being included in the 2020 Census, getting critical federal dollars and having a voice on the national stage.
“The count still matters for Texas,” she added.
What Texans are doing about it
Census champions are learning to “pivot and rethink,” as traditional activities and strategies are being redesigned and redeployed to beat restrictions caused by the pandemic, say experts on the EMS panel.
Increasingly, the message to stand up and be counted is being entrusted to ‘trusted messengers” embedded in communities across the country.
For example, the Census Bureau is delegating messaging to local media and nonprofit organizations, especially ethnic media outlets serving minority audiences. Media consumption is up and people across these communities are getting their news and looking for answers from media sources they trust.
In a fitting example, India Currents was selected by The United Way of California to disseminate culturally sensitive census messages to its Indian American audience. The hope is to reach the traditionally undercounted – for example, households with seniors, children or undocumented residents – using non-traditional methods to achieve a fair and accurate count.
A ‘Pivot and Change‘ strategy
In Texas, nonprofit organizations are innovating and mobilizing to get out the count. The Census Bureau’s announcements about delays have caused confusion in some communities, so it’s critical to reinforce the message that the ‘Census is still on’ says community organizer Chris Valdez of Houston in Action.
In some cases, people in rural areas do not have mail delivered, and as the census does not deliver to PO boxes, many of them have not received the census forms or even heard a census message.
New response efforts have dramatically altered the way that message is being delivered. The response is being built around a multi-pronged digital effort involving social media, radio and TV, and empowering local leaders and trusted messengers – faith-based institutions and school districts to get the message out.
New outreach campaigns now feature ‘virtual activations’ like webinars and online Instagram Live parties to engage people nationally, attract and educate the younger generation and draw their parents in. In one such live event, the social justice organization Muslim Women For held a free Census Party on Instagram Live with ‘DJ Kiran and the Justice for Muslims Collective’ to “fill out census questionnaires in real time, answer your questions and jam out.”
The NCBCP Unity Diaspora Coalition which includes partners like The National Urban League organized a social media initiative called Count Me Black! to engage Black communities to focus on being counted in the 2020 decennial.
Weekly podcasts that highlight the importance of the census and signage at grocery stores are now integral elements of the campaign effort.
Among minority groups like MENA where limited English puts people at a disadvantage, communication about the census is being channeled through social media (texts and WhatsApp groups), and ethnic media outlets.
In-language phone banking efforts are helping seniors, especially those without internet access, to complete the form. Schools are delivering census information with their school lunches.
Mosques and Islamic centers are holding events, once a week online programs and other ethnic media broadcasts, as well as food banks, to promote the census.
Civic engagement efforts include a get out the count campaign competition with a $1000 prize.
Nabila Mansoor of Empowering Communities Initiative says that around 1.7 Asian Americans have been undercounted for decades putting families, communities and neighborhoods at a disadvantage.
Empowering minority communities to participate in the census is a challenge that must be met, or Texans will be living the consequences of an undercount.
The old school census outreach program has created a digital divide between people who enjoy seamless broadband connections and disadvantaged people in communities of color who have limited or no Internet access.
The new style census communication outreach is narrowing that gap .
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.
Image credit: Glen Carrie on Unsplash