California’s Census self-response rate is a nationwide leader, but many residents in the state’s wealthy enclaves have yet to respond.
9.7 million households in the state have already responded — more than 64 percent — but more than two million households have not participated in the nine-question online survey at census2020.gov. A mail-in form is also available.
California’s self-response rate is higher than the national average – slightly more than 64 percent versus
62.8 percent throughout the country as of July 30, according to data from California Complete Count-Census 2020. California also has the highest average self-response rate in census tracts where a large percentage of residents are foreign born.
As part of its original strategy, California Complete Count focused its outreach on 3.5 to 4.1 million households considered “hardest-to-count” because they lack access to broadband Internet and therefore cannot complete the online form. Hard-to-count households may also speak English as a second language and live at or near the poverty line.
So far, 2 million hard-to-count households have responded, which meets the state’s initial target and puts it ahead of 10 other states with similarly high racial and ethnic diversity. California has the largest number of hard to count households in the country, according to California Complete Count.
Surprisingly, however, wealthy cities in the state — which in past censuses have been easy to count — have had a lower response rate in the 2020 census. In posh Malibu, for example, self-response rates dipped to 36 percent. In San Francisco, wealthy neighborhoods such as Cow Hollow, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and the Presidio have self-response rates of 53 percent, a startling drop from the 2010 census, when these neighborhoods exceeded 70 percent.
Ditas Katague, longtime director of California Complete Count-Census 2020, the state’s initiative to ensure an accurate census count, said during an Aug. 3 press briefing that there are only a few days left to respond to avoid enumerators coming knocking at the door. All residents in the country are required to respond to the Census regardless of immigration status.
“This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Face to face contact is limited,” she said, also noting the uncertainty of door-to-door field work.
U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced Aug. 3 that he was cutting short the time for field data collection. Earlier, enumerators were scheduled to continue knocking on doors until Oct. 31. But Dillingham’s memo said field operations would end on Sept. 30 to ensure that the Bureau would meet its statutory deadline of Dec. 31 for delivering census results to the White House.
The shortened timeline for data collection immediately evoked response from critics. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, issued a series of tweets Aug. 4, stating: “Last night’s announcement that the 2020 Census will be cut short before its work is done is yet another example of this Administration’s blatant assault on our Constitution and our democracy.”
“Trump has been trying to undermine the Census since before it began. The House will continue to investigate these abuses. With only 6 in 10 people counted so far, I urge the Commerce Secretary & Census Director to insist on conducting the full count as mandated by our Constitution,” tweeted Hoyer.
Katague said she was deeply concerned that field work might be cut short. “A successful count involves enough enumerators and enough timing.”
San Mateo County has achieved the highest census self-response rate in California by working with local organizations that know their communities intimately and by targeting messages to them.
Those efforts by trusted, countywide, “on-the-ground” messengers were funded by more than $1.3 million from state and county monies, officials said during a June 30 conference call hosted by Ethnic Media Services.
San Mateo County has reached a 72.8% self-response in the 2020 census, higher than the state’s 62.9% average and the nation´s 61.8%.
This means that almost three out of four county residents already have filled out the population questionnaire, well ahead of the start of door-to-door visits by census enumerators, which are slated to start in mid-July for some U.S. locations and in August for the rest of the nation.
San Mateo County, located in the Bay Area on the San Francisco Peninsula between the cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto, is composed of dissimilar communities, and the high self-response number varies greatly. Some cities in the county, like Pescadero and East Palo Alto, are way behind in the count, according to local groups.
Megan Gosh, census management analyst of the San Mateo County Office of Community Affairs, said the county began working on the project to boost census responses back in January 2018.
“We had plenty of challenges: 13 of 20 cities in San Mateo have a combination of hard-to-count census tracks, as well as unincorporated areas all over the county,” she said.
Hard-to-count groups include renters, noncitizen residents with limited English proficiency and children under 5 years old, she added. California itself is a hard-to-count state.
The county’s lack of affordable housing means many addresses are not known to the Census Bureau because they are tied to “nontraditional” housing units, such as converted garages and recreational vehicles. In other cases, people living in rural areas would not get the letters or questionnaires because the bureau will not deliver them to post office boxes, which most rural residents rely on.
“We worked with city planners and local organizations to canvass areas with those nontraditional units and add their addresses to the master list of the census,” Gosh said.
That county project was able to add 2,000 addresses to the census master files. Using a conservative two persons per household, those additions would have resulted in $4 million per year for the county because population counts are tied to distribution of federal and state resources. They also are used to create electoral districts that are meant to ensure political representation of all communities. Undercounts tend to shortchange that representation.
Gosh and other county and community leaders described the more than two-year effort to get up-close, personal knowledge of those communities and what makes them tick, sometimes having to correct course and tailor messages to convince residents to participate in the census.
“For example, we received word that Daly City renters were hesitant to take the census due to lack of trust in sharing their information,” explained Melissa Vergara, a census specialist with San Mateo County. “So we created a targeted door hanger that spoke specifically about confidentiality laws for the census.”
Other areas are receiving “hyper-targeted” messages through social media campaigns and internet adsby zip code, videos and bus shelter billboards. Also helping was outreach through faith congregations and in different languages, depending on local ethnic composition.
Creativity and flexibility are key components of the strategies local organizations have used. Rita Mancera, executive director of Puente de la Costa Sur in Pescadero, said her community was seriously undercounted in the 2010 census, and “not one platform works by itself” in reaching everyone.
“The 2010 census counted 2,019 residents in our community, but we knew we served at least 1,600 individuals, so our estimate is that we had between 5,000 and 6,000 residents, most of whom had been missed,” Mancera said. She estimates that only about 33% of the community was counted in 2010. So far this year, Pescadero’s response rate is 46.1%. “And it was very hard to get there,” she adds.
Many immigrant residents have trust issues because of their experience in their home countries, Mancera says. But the organization has used its relationship with those communities and families to get them to participate in the census.
“We distribute help to about 200 households every Thursday, urging them to use phones to respond to the census,” she explained. “We hired one person to call about 250 families that had received school supplies from us last year, so we could assist them in answering the censusover the phone. There is also a lot of informal communication going on.”
An example of how a motivated community working with a trusted local organization can surpass expectations also occurred in Pacifica, a city where the self-response rate has been higher than that of neighboring, more affluent San Carlos.
“We leverage the trust they have in us,” said Anita Rees, executive director of Pacifica Resource Center. “Our organization has been serving the area for 45 years. This is a passionate community, often divided on issues, but the census has become common ground. For us, the message that the census is their voice being heard has worked, and also the community is competitive — they wanted to beat out San Carlos.”
Outreach to the Asian community has been highly targeted, said Nina Li, outreach coordinator for San Mateo County. More than 30% of the population of the county is Asian. Chinese, Tagalog and Hindi are the most spoken non-English languages, aside from Spanish.
Immigration status has been key to reach the diverse Asian populations, aside from language, said Li, who like many in her community is a non-citizen legal permanent resident who is experiencing her first decennial census.
“For many in our community, this is a new concept, and they have the misconception that this is similar to an election where you have to be a citizen to participate, which is not the case,” Lee said.
Li says their outreach efforts have used We Chat, a social media platform popular in Asia, and targeted messages to permanent residents and even temporary visa holders.
“I am not a citizen, but I go to parks and libraries, I use public transportation, and my daughter is going to go to public schools, all services impacted by the 2020 census for the next 10 years,” she said. “We make sure people know that.”
Lisa Tealer, executive director of the Bay Area Community Health Advisory Council, said African Americans, Latinos and others in East Palo Alto respond to the idea of regaining the power of “being counted,” a phrase that historically has had negative connotations because the census was used to discriminate against some communities in the past.
“We now claim it as power, we want to be counted because we helped build this country,” Tealer said.
Similarly, the Pacific Islander community residents respond to the idea that the census is a way to ensure resources for the new generations, said Talavoy Aumavae, leader in the San Mateo County Pacific Islander Complete Count Committee.
“We stressed the fact that our ancestors had migrated here for better opportunities for their families, and it’s imperative that we tie the census response to our futures,” Aumavae said.
School lunch programs, which fed nearly half of American’s schoolchildren before the Coronavirus, have turned into a lifeline for families hit by unemployment and rising food prices during the pandemic.
Many of those programs are now going broke, and their very existence over the next decade depends on the population numbers being gathered by the U.S. Census in communities that are considered “hard to count,” says Mayra E. Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership, a nonprofit which advocates for underserved children.
When asked about the impact of the U.S. Census, which is conducted every ten years and has been delayed and disrupted (but NOT canceled) by the pandemic, Alvarez mentions this program first, although it’s hardly the only one that would be affected if there is a severe undercount of children and low income families.
In the past three months, school lunch programs have lost at least $1 billion during lockdowns and school closures that eliminated the revenue from families who were able to pay for the meals.
At the same time, costs have outstripped federal reimbursements for the emergency meals. Relief bills passed by Congress have helped, but the long-term survival of the programs depend on data from the 2020 Census.
For populations concerned with survival, filling out or responding to the 2020 Census may seem a distant priority.
But nothing is more important for vulnerable families than an accurate count, says Alvarez.
For starters, the biggest, most impactful federal and state programs that serve the health and well-being of children and families depend on formulas driven by census data.
The more people that are counted, particularly in those communities that need a variety of programs, the more money is allocated to serve them.
“We can point to Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), two fundamental programs for health care, which are partly based on census numbers,” said Alvarez.
“The programs that rely on census data are the ones the majority of people rely one, like Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance”.
Medicaid, for example, is “part of a formula that distributes money to states, based on population and income; the states put money in and the federal government matches it.”
Experts estimate that the federal government provides between $1,700 and $2,000 for each person counted in the census.
For a minimum wage earner who’s a single mother of two, being counted or not counted in the census “can make a whole world of difference,” Alvarez says.
“If there is no adequate reflection of people like her in the census data, she may not be able to qualify for food stamps or enroll her children in child care because there won’t be enough slots”, Alvarez explains.
”She may also lose out on health coverage for her children, not find space in a neighborhood school and have to bus her children to another school. She might have to go farther away to find a hospital if the child gets sick because the hospital wasn’t built in her community since the population count did not reflect her presence,” she continues.
“This could be a very dire situation if the undercount is severe.”
“It is so much more important to be accurate right now because so many families are struggling,” Alvarez says. “These programs pretty much impact every aspect of their lives”.
Going back to school lunches, Alvarez says, an undercount of children and families could mean more hunger at a time when it’s unclear how soon will schools be able to go back to some kind of “normality”
“If families that have kids that depend on free and reduced lunch are undercounted, there will not be as many resources to make sure they are eating when they go to school”, Alvarez says. “These are kids that may not be able to eat at home or bring money for lunch”.
Census Day, when the United States takes its once-every-decade collective selfie, is April 1.
Those who don’t include themselves in the decennial snapshot will cost themselves and their communities thousands of dollars’ worth of government tax spending — $1.5 trillion annually nationwide (https://tinyurl.com/Census-drivenSpending) for the next 10 years, and other benefits too, with no chance to get added to the picture until 2030.
But Census Day isn’t the actual deadline for being included. It’s just the day listed on the census questionnaires (https://tinyurl.com/2020censusquestionnaire): “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2020?”
For this question, include yourself, all the kids, all the relatives or friends who live there, and roommates. Information given to the census will never be shared with landlords.
Until the corona virus hit, the actual deadline for filling out the census was July 31. Now the Census Bureau has extended the deadline to August 15.
The nine-question questionnaires themselves are already available for people to answer online,
At the website https://my2020census.gov, and will remain available in a dozen different languages until the Aug. 15 deadline. Many people have already received “invitations” in the mail to answer the census online, with an ID number customized for their address.
Whether you have an invitation or not, you can still go to that https://my2020census.gov website and fill out the questionnaire.
The Census Bureau has also begun sending out print copies of the questionnaire through the mail.
People can also be counted by making a telephone call, to (844) 330-2020 if they speak English, or to one of 13 numbers, listed below, for other languages. The call centers, however, are not fully staffed due to stay-at-home orders for the corona virus, so this method could involve longer wait times on the phone.
You can also wait for an “enumerator,” a Census Bureau employee who will be dispatched starting in May to visit addresses that have not yet responded online, or by mail, or by phone.
Although the Census Bureau says it has offered jobs to 600,000 people – 100,000 more than it anticipated hiring – it is also delaying the “onboarding” process, which includes fingerprinting and background checks, for at least a couple of weeks due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
The census requirement is included in the U.S. Constitution, and a national census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. Participation is required.
From 1790 to 1820, Census Day was the first Monday of August. Then it was moved to early June until 1910, when it was moved to April 15. In 1920, in an effort to avoid interfering with farm work, Census Day was Jan. 1. But when that census showed how the country was becoming increasingly urbanized, Census Day was shifted to April 1, where it has remained ever since.
Census data is used to try to evenly distribute political representation in Congress. Currently, every member of the 435-seat House of Representatives has about 750,000 constituents.
The data also helps businesses decide where to invest, helps state and local governments determine where new schools and roads are needed, and directs the federal government to where kids are living who qualify for Head Start, or need any of more than 100 other federally funded programs providing child care and development, education, nutrition, health care and much more.
The personal information the census collects – your name, address, age, race, the household phone number – is kept strictly confidential for 72 years. The Census Bureau is forbidden to share that information with other government agencies, including police, the FBI, ICE, everybody.
California has invested more money than any other state in census outreach in an effort to ensure that all its people are counted this year. The website CaliforniaCensus.gov can
Direct you to Questionnaire Assistance Centers and kiosks where you will be able to get some help filling out the forms if you need it.
By May, if you haven’t filled out the census form, a census enumerator will come to your address. There are several ways to make sure it’s really a census worker. You can ask to see their official U.S. Census Bureau I.D. badge, which will have their name and photograph, along with an expiration date and a Department of Commerce watermark.
They will also be using a hand-held computer device and carrying a census bag. You can verify that they’re who they say they are by calling (800) 923-8282 to speak to a local representative.
Also, no census worker will ask about your citizenship status, or your social security number, or any banking information. Nor will they ask for a payment or donation of any type.
If you want help completing your census form, the Census Bureau has phone lines in 14 languages to provide that:
English (844) 330-2020
Spanish (844) 468-2020
Chinese (Mandarin) (844) 391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese) (844) 398-2020
Vietnamese (844) 461-2020
Korean (844) 392-2020
Russian (844) 417-2020
Arabic (844) 416-2020
Tagalog (844) 478-2020
Polish (844) 479-2020
French (844) 494-2020
Haitian Creole (844) 477-2020
Portuguese (844) 474-2020
Japanese (844) 460-2020
The state of California is providing online assistance in the following languages:
It is Census Day, a snapshot of our country, but what is happening with the census during the COVID-19 outbreak?
A panel of experts shared information at a telebriefing held on April 1, 2020, in partnership with Ethnic Media Services.
Though Census 2020 kicked off on March 12th, the deadline has been EXTENDED to August 15, 2020.
This gives everyone more than enough time to complete the NINE question survey. That’s right, only nine questions.
There are no questions related to citizenship, so everyone living and working in the States – should respond to the census regardless of citizenship status.
Ditas Katague, Director of California Complete Count and a census outreach veteran, shared interesting insights into census statistics. So far, 37.9% of Californians have already filled out the census; the national average is 38.4%. California leveraged its efforts to address diversity within California by budgeting $187 million to increase the count – a significant increase over the 2 million budget Katague received for the 2010 census. California is a difficult state to count because of its teeming diasporas; hopefully this larger budget will be able to address the needs of those who have been undercounted in the past.
Eleven million out of California’s forty million residents are hard to count. June Lim, Demographic Research Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, explained that hard to count populations include immigrants, non-English speakers, older people, and minorities that distrust the government. Asian and Asian Pacific Islanders are a demographic that is “least likely to respond because they believe the census bureau won’t keep their information private.” However, everyone is protected by Title 13 of the U.S. Code and personal information cannot be given to anyone, including the President.
“Our communities will be taken more seriously if we’re counted,” stated Basim Elkarra, Executive Director of CAIR, a sentiment that was endorsed by the other speakers. It is imperative that minorities get the representation they deserve. The census determines “power, money, and data”, Katague emphasized, because it has become more transparent than before that “data drives emergency funding.”
The US Census Bureau has suspended activity because of the pandemic and is planning to start census efforts again on April 15th. People do not need to worry about anyone knocking on their door amidst the fear of spreading coronavirus, especially if they respond online, by phone at 1-844-2020-0274, or mail.
The best way to avoid contact with the virus and to continue social distancing is to complete the census online.
For more information, reference our previous article here!
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.
Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.
Despite mounting worries over the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a dozen Pacific Islander activists and media representatives gathered in San Mateo March 14 to anchor an online conference about the 2020 census and their collective stake in an accurate count.
They were joined online and over the airwaves by almost a hundred more people — various voices from the “Coconut Wireless” – who watched, listened and added their own perspectives. The online conference was hosted by Ethnic Media Services with the support of the California Complete Count Office 2020 census.
“They [government officials] need to see us. We pay our taxes, we pay our dues,” said Nackie Moli, who runs the podcast Poly by Design. Identifying herself as a “proud Samoan woman,” she said she was excited to promote the census in her work with Island Block Radio, heard, she said, from Alaska to Mexico. “We all need to be counted.”
Addressing the role of census data in supporting education, Manuafou Liaiga Anoa’i, of the Jefferson School District Board of Trustees in San Mateo, said: “Empowering others — that’s census. Education in a classroom? That has to be funded. We have to continue to give our future generations more resources.
“We are an invisible community, but we don’t have that poverty mind-set. We continue to be warriors.”
Speaker after speaker addressed the battle to distinguish Pacific Islander identity and “disaggregating” it from its current place as a subset of the Asian American population in the census.
The Pacific Islander community is highly diverse, but for most of its history, there have been few ways to specify origins on the census: Someone who identifies as “Asian or Pacific Islander” could also check boxes for Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian or “Other API.” “Other API” offered a write-in box for more detail – Tongan, perhaps, or Fijian, or something else.
In 2000, “or Chamorro” was added to the Guamanian choice, and for the first time, “Other Pacific Islander” appeared as a separate write-in box alternative to “Other Asian.”
According to the 2010 Census, the total U.S. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population was 1.2 million, more than half living either in Hawaii or California. By 2018, that number had grown to 1.4 million, still largely in Hawaii and California, according to estimates presented by Alisi Tulua, of One East Palo Alto and OCPICA.
With a fast-growing influx in populations from Micronesia, the Caroline Islands and other equatorial climes, the United States is seeing some of the first refugees of climate change and sea rise.
“The migration is inevitable,”said Epi Aumavae, of Samoan Solutions. “When you have nowhere to live, you have to move. That’s the reality.”
And it’s all the more reason for communities to be sure they’re included in the census this year, she said, because those communities will continue to grow and need resources. The numbers counted this year will be the basis for the next decade of government apportionments.
“Climate refugees are going to gravitate to where their communities already are. Those populations are going to increase because people will have nowhere else to go,” Aumavae said.
Finau Tovio, of the College of San Mateo’s MANA program, added, “Our Tonga is our churches, community leaders, ancestors.”
Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the number of people checking Guamanian or Chamorro increased 60%, Samoan grew 38%, and Native Hawaiian 31%, Tulua said. Also, people who checked “Other Pacific Island” and wrote in “Tongan” increased 55% and “Tahitian” write-ins increased 53%.
Other Oceanic populations demonstrated even more dramatic growth: Chuukese were up 544%, Solomon Islanders 388%, Kosraeen 301%, Marshallese, 237%, Carolinian 201%, Pohnpeian, 194%, Mariana Islander 177%, Yapese 177%, Fijian 138%, I-Kiribati 129%, Saipanese 117%, Palauan 115%, Papua New Guinean 86%, Tokelauan, 61%.
“We see the truth in climate change. East Palo Alto is, in majority, on a flood plain,” pointed out East Palo Alto native and College of San Mateo student Shaana Uhilamoelangi. “We’re seeing a big influx from the South Pacific.”
“It’s so important to be heard and fairly represented,” said Sonya Logman, chief of staff of the California Complete Count Census 2020 office in her opening remarks at the online conference. The state government dedicated $187.2 million toward ensuring a complete count of its people. “We’re in a league of our own,” she said.
To reinforce that message, Aumavae urged meeting participants and listeners: “Make phone calls with your families, have conversations with relatives, because we’re not going to be able to do it face to face. Please, write your island in so it tells this administration and whoever’s next that we’re here.”
A couple days ago, the Census2020 questionnaire arrived on my doorstep. Actually, my neighbor brought it by because our overworked mailman had dumped several census envelopes intended for our neighborhood into her mailbox; so, Joanne emerged from self-imposed corona isolation to do her civic duty and prompt her neighbors to do theirs. Thank you, good neighbor!
My plumber watched this exchange. He was repairing a leak that had recently ripped a massive tear in the ceiling of our hallway. Ramon is originally from Guatemala. He arrived in the US about 25 years ago as a penniless immigrant, and built a thriving business – carpentry, tiling, painting, gardening, plumbing – Ramon fixes anything that breaks, and in the last ten years, we’ve entrusted almost every home repair to him and his handy team of family and friends.
Do you know about the census? I waved the questionnaire at Ramon. Are you going to answer this?
As it happens, not only did Ramon know about the Census, he had participated in the 2010 enumeration and understood exactly why it mattered.
“Schools, roads, clinics – don’t they depend on it?” he offered, “So, yes.”
That’s great, I replied, what about the other guys? His team were enjoying their lunch break in the unseasonably warm sunshine outside.
“No way. Not going to happen.”
It turns out, not unexpectedly, that several of Ramon’s team were undocumented; several cousins, uncles and nephews work jobs he farms out to them so they can send money to families back home. He confided that they were increasingly anxious about their futures and livelihood, and wary of responding to the census.
Why the wariness? Ramon was honest. A very real fear of an ICE backlash, a police round up, and the risk of deportation stoked by pervasive anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as the specter of the citizenship question – all of which intimidate Ramon’s relatives and many more non-citizens like them.
“But there won’t be a citizenship question,” I reminded him.
No matter, he countered. “They ‘re scared they’ll be sent back.”
It’s a threat that terrifies undocumented individuals and non-citizens from every immigrant community. Uncertainty about immigration policy forces many to stay under the radar, as far as possible from the prying eyes of the authorities. There is every likelihood they will not respond to the census questionnaire or even answer the door to a census taker.
That includes undocumented immigrants from the subcontinent as well. Indians are the second-largest immigrant group after Mexicans, accounting for almost 6 percent of the 43.3 million foreign-born population, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). As of 2015 about 2.4 million Indian immigrants were resident in the United States.
SAALT’s Laksmi Sridharan argues that thousands will be deterred from participating in the census because “South Asians are impacted by the full spectrum of federal immigration policies – from detention and deportation to H-4 visa work authorization and denaturalization to the assault on public benefits,” confirming that “at least 600,000 South Asians in the country are not being counted.”
“An accurate Census 2020 population count is essential to distributing critical federal funding to our communities,” she added, “this means even fewer resources to the communities who need it the most.”
People who elect not to be counted will contribute to the inevitable undercount, projected by the Urban Institute to be at least 4 million people missing from the national headcount.
It poses a serious threat to the 2020 census. An inaccurate count will severely impact vulnerable communities that will lose critical federal funding for educational, health and transportation support that they, their families and communities need.
Apprehension about the safety of personal data drives this lack of participation, with questions ranging from uncertainty about privacy to concerns about cyber security:
Can ICE get hold of my details?
Is it risky to give away my race or ethnicity?
What if DHS learns I’m undocumented – I don’t have papers.
What about hackers? Can cyber-attacks compromise my data as it’s collected and processed?
Some respondents are daunted by the legalese on the front of census envelopes that conjure up an underlying dread of law enforcement.
The New York state envelopes demand ‘YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW’, while early voting requests from the City of Boston warn in bold red letters “ failure to respond shall result in removal from active voting rolls.”
So, despite repeated reassurances from the Census Bureau that individuals should not worry about the confidentiality of their information, questions about data security linger.
It’s a challenge that the Census Bureau and advocacy organizations across the country are striving to address.
The Census Bureau reiterates on its website and through downloadable fact sheets that Title 13 makes it clear by law, that no personal information can be shared.
However, as an arm of the federal government, messaging from the Census Bureau is still viewed with mistrust. People are more likely to believe ‘trusted messengers’ about whether or not their data will be compromised. So advocacy groups are partnering with local and national coalitions to devise outreach with culturally appropriate messaging for communities of color, non-citizens and foreign-born residents.
SAALT has shared an AAPI guide to reassure South Asians on what census security measures they can expect.
In a teleconference hosted in partnership with Ethnic Media Services on March 13, leading civil rights advocates also shared plans about campaigns to diminish fears, encourage participation and ensure a fair and accurate count of the geographically, culturally and linguistically diverse communities they represent.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AASJ) has launched a 2020 Census HOTLINE (18442020API) or (8442020204) available in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali for anyone with questions or concerns about the upcoming census. “We aim to eliminate all barriers that prevent people from accessing the 2020Census,” said John Yang, AASJ President & Executive Director, and to remind them of legal protections in place.
“In March we will embark on a paid media strategy focusing on making sure Latinos understand, “there is no citizenship question” on the Census, said Lisette Escobedo, Director, NALEO Educational Fund Leadership. A recent study concluded that nearly half of Latinos surveyed expected a citizenship question on the form. Education about what will and will not be on the form is “critical for a full count among Latinos.” It also will address fears about cyber security and data privacy using trusted messengers. In addition, NALEO has launched a digital campaign targeting English dominant Latina millennials who can serve as trusted messengers to help Latino families and communities respond to the census.
Escobedo also described “Train the Trainer” workshops across the country to educate 3500 census ambassadors on the census, including guidelines ensuring cyber security, especially those agencies planning on making devices available to the public. A bilingual Spanish-English Hotline (8773523676) was launched to address all census-related questions including ones about scammers and potential disinformation.
Jeri Green, Senior Advisor at the Urban League, referred to Pew Research and Urban Institute studies which concluded that severe undercounts in black populations were the result of “extreme fear and distrust of the census process.” The Urban League has launched the 2020Census Black Round Table – a coalition of civil rights leaders, clergy, immigrants, state and local officials, and advocates on the forefront of emerging black issues – to mobilize a network of Urban League’s affiliates and town halls to educate black communities about the census, and ensure they “understand their data is safe and confidential.”
“Indian country has the highest undercount at 4.9%,” says Lycia Maddocks, Vice President of External Affairs, National Congress of American Indians. Not only do tribal communities have limited broadband access, but they also are restricting access to their territories. So, the Indian Country Counts campaign is working with almost 1600 coordinators, tribal partners and powerful national organizations (such as the Native American Rights Fund and the National Urban Indian Coalition) with the broadest reach in Indian country, to create messages that resonate.
“We are in a league of our own,” says Ditas Katague, Director of the California Complete Count Office 2020 Census, when it comes to counting all Californians – a state with over 40 million people. The challenges are magnified by the sheer diversity of its population (over 192 languages spoken in LA county alone), distrust in government institutions, and “…over 11 million people considered hard to count – a group larger than the entire state of Georgia.” The state is responding by “investing an unprecedented $187.2 million to reach the hardest to count Californians,” and partnering with more than 120 trusted messengers (local and tribal governments, K-12 schools, community and faith-based organizations, labor unions and media) to encourage hardest to count Californians to participate.
“The core message of our statewide campaign is that participating in the census is safe and secure for all Californians,” states Kataguue. “The census will never ask questions about citizen status, social security number, bank details or payments or donations.”
Beth Lynk, Census Counts Campaign Director of The Leadership Conference Education Fund described Census2020 as an ‘all hands on deck’ moment and an urgent civil rights issue facing the country.
In a democracy where every voice matters whether Indian, Chinese or Latino, Black or Native American, getting vulnerable communities to count themselves in will depend on convincing them to trust in a system they fear.
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.
In the time of Coronavirus, the state’s diverse communities are told that participation in the U.S. Census is still crucially important, aside from safe and secure
The U.S. Census self-response phase went live on March 12, and civil rights leaders of diverse ethnic groups came together to remind their communities of the many legal and privacy protections guaranteed by federal law for people to participate in the decennial count.
They also encouraged them to continue to “self-respond” by phone, online or mail and outlined the steps they will follow to continue to reach out to hard-to-count communities, addressing at the same time the health emergency of the Covid-19 as an additional challenge in Census 2020.
“We encourage our communities to sanitize and self-respond”, said Jeri Green, 2020 Census Senior Advisor for the National Urban League.
The leaders emphasized that most Americans are now able to self-respond to the Census in the privacy of their own homes without having to meet a Census taker or enumerator. For example, people can go to https://2020census.gov/ and answer nine questions (seven for every person in the household other than the one filling out the questionnaire). They can also respond by phone or in printed form.
Several organizations have mounted massive campaigns to help their communities maximize their participation, given that the data collected by the US Census is used in the distribution of resources, funding of services and political representation through drawing of districts for Congress, State Legislatures, etc.
Beth Lynk, Census counts campaign Director for The Leadership Conference Education Fund said the Census is “one of the most urgent civil rights issues facing the country and right now every person in the US has a chance to ensure a fair and complete count to all communities”.
Knowing that many in their communities have privacy concerns on the use of the data they will be sharing with the Census, the leaders reminded that the information has extraordinary levels of legal protection.
John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice pointed to the laws that govern the use of the data given to the U.S. Census Bureau as “the strongest privacy protections allowed in the United States”.
Asian Americans are among the communities where there are many undocumented immigrants and mixed-status households, which creates mistrust towards the government and could affect a complete count. Every person living in the United States by April 1 must be counted, and that includes undocumented immigrants.
“The confidentiality provision known as Title 13 prevents the government from using the Census data for any purpose other than the statistical one”, said Yang. “More importantly, the bureau and its employees are not allowed to share the data with any other government agency or officials for any reason”.
Certain information gathered by the Census cannot be published for 72 years, such as the name of the individual, business or organization, address or telephone number. Another layer of laws prohibits the use of data in any way against the individual who responded.
Yang pointed to their hotline for the Asian and Pacific Islander Community in several languages as a crucial resource to answer questions: 844-2020-API or 844-202-0204.
Other communities share the same privacy concern. This is a very important issue in black communities, said Green, of the Urban League, whose 90 affiliates are hard at work reassuring their members of the security of the data and the importance of participation.
“We are fighting to ensure that the black population, including immigrants, lose no ground, be it economic, political or in civil rights”, she emphasized. “The stakes are too high, please go to makeblackcount.org to learn more about our efforts”.
Lycia Maddox, Vice President of External Affairs for the National Congress of American Indians (which also includes Alaska Natives) said that the tribal nations across the country present a special challenge due to restrictions they have imposed on access to their lands, due to the Coronavirus.
“These communities often have no access to online and broadband to self-respond, and these new security measures make it impossible for enumerators to visit them and it delays mail delivery”, Maddox said. “We are as we speak working with different networks to come up with plans, and to increase community outreach and advertising”.
Lizette Escobedo, Census Director for the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials (NALEO) invited Latinos to call the bilingual Spanish-English hotline 877 ELCENSO or 877 352-3672 where there will be live paid operator answering questions and watching for reports of potential scammers or disinformation.
The organization has trained 3500 Census Ambassadors to assist the community in 15 states in filling out the Census and has launched two national campaigns, “Hágase contar and Hazme contar” focused on the larger Latino community and children younger than four, which experienced a large undercount in the 2010 Census.
Additional paid media campaigns will remind people that there is absolutely “NO CITIZENSHIP QUESTION” in the Census and addressing “fears of data privacy and cybersecurity”.
An additional ad campaign targeting Latina Millennials who are English-dominant was launched 2 months ago.
“Ensuring an accurate count seems like a heavier lift as every day happens folks have mentioned, we are committed to working with national local and media partners to do what we can to ensure that Latinos are heard, seen and counted this 2020 census”, she added.
In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, organizations are revising the way they conduct the outreach to maintain community safety,
“Several grassroots organizations are moving to phone banks and text banks because the table opportunities are very restrictive right now and we want to exercise caution”, said Yang. “We are also leaving drop off literature in supermarkets, community centers, and clinics”.
Ditas Katague, from the California Complete count office, said that the state of California has spent more than all the other states combined to reach out to the hardest to count populations and ensure everyone participates.
“The investment is unprecedented, a total of 172.2 million dollars and is larger than all other states combined, we are on a league of our own”, said Katague. “We have unique challenges, a diverse population, and a large geographic size. We have 120 partners throughout the state and we are coordinating the largest mobilization of partners in our state´s history”.
The leaders reiterated that their overall goal is that every Californian understands that the Census is not only “safe and secure”, and vital for the future of all the communities. “The goal is to ensure that everyone is invited and able to participate in the 2020 Census”, said Beth Lynk of the Leadership Conference.
Pilar Marrero is a journalist and author with long experience in covering social and political issues of the Latino community in the United States. She is one of the foremost experts on immigration policy and politics in the US media world and has covered the issue extensively during her years as a reporter. Marrero is the author of the books “Killing the American Dream” and “El Despertar del Sueño Americano.”
I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future.
It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate.
The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.
But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020.
Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian.
Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.
White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.
Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?”
Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans.
These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.
What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”.
Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.
Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right?
PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?
Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”
Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”
I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:
The U.S. Census Bureauis bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.
The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.
Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc.
And if that isn’t enough of an encouragement, taking the census is a legal obligation and you can be fined $5,000 for not completing it and up to $10,000 for falsifying information.
The census information should be mailed to you between March 12- March 20 and you have until April 1st to complete the census by mail, on the phone, or online.
It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report.
Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
EUREKA, CA — A kickoff event for getting a full count of California’s Native American population in the 2020 Census featured heaps of swag, a free feast, a live band, dance performance, bingo and more.
“We’re really happy with the turnout, even if it’s for the bingo and free food,” Madison Flynn, assistant director of the Northern California Indian Development Council said during one of the speeches exhorting census participation that organizers peppered into the mix along with the evening’s other activities.
“We’re trying to make something visible that’s been invisible too long.”
The event was held on the evening of March 6 at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka, Humboldt County. Flynn and other speakers emphasized that when it comes to allocating government spending, decision-makers always want data — “How many people will benefit from this program?” And across the United States, that means census data.
The latest estimate is that every year, $1.5 trillion in federal tax spending is distributed based on that data, which is only collected once every decade and not updated till the next census, 10 years later. For the 2020s, that “once” begins in mid-March, when mailings will be sent to every known address with instructions on how to complete the nine-question census form.
Separating the dining tables and stage from the child care area and a huge movie screen were tables set up by the U.S. Census Bureau, the California Governor’s Office, the California Native Vote Project, the California Indian Manpower Consortium and more, offering informational flyers, T-shirts, trinkets, treats and more.
There were piles of T-shirts handed out, most of them including messages urging people to be counted in the census and to identify themselves by their tribal affiliation, whether Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa Valley or Tolowa Dee-ni’. Although the census form allows people to identify themselves however they see fit, tribal advocates urged people to choose only one, to maximize to their tribe the share of funding and representation tied to census data that would accrue per person counted.
Speakers addressed themes also detailed in the informational flyers available at the various tables, such as: “50 Ways Census Data Are Used,” “Common Questions About the Census,” “The 2020 Census and Confidentiality,” “Our Kids Count” (the census is intended to count everyone, of every age, and kids younger than 5 are the most-frequently overlooked population nationwide. Native Americans are the most-overlooked ethnic population – by at least 4.9% in 2010, the Census Bureau figures) and more.
“There’s hope that if we show up we can actually be heard and take the power that was taken from us and flip it,” Flynn said. “Everybody’s thinking that nobody exists here and tribes are extinct. Part of what we’re trying to do is talk about the fact that native people are still here.”
The Census Bureau is sending out mailings nationwide on March 12 with instructions on how to fill out the census online, the preferred, least-expensive method for the government to perform this Constitutionally required duty. People can also fill out the questionnaire over the phone and, as a last resort, the Census Bureau will send out “enumerators” it has hired – and there are still jobs available to do this in Humboldt County, paying $18 per hour – to visit addresses that have not responded, starting in May.
People can also visit community centers to fill out the census, which is expected to take, on average, about 10 minutes. Three places in Smith River for doing this are: the Howonquet Hall Community Center during open council meetings and on “Census Day” (April 1), the K’vsh-chu Tribal Office from mid-March to May 8, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, or the Education Department, on the same dates but only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There will be more, such as the Klamath or Weitchpec tribal offices on April 1, May 1 or June 1 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the California Indian Big Time on April 4 in Arcata, the First 5 Humboldt event in Eureka April 7 and 8 and the First 5 Del Norte in Crescent City April 10-11.
“We are in a climate where this really, really matters. It’s California versus the federal government now,” another speaker said. California has allocated $187 million toward getting a full count of the state’s people in the 2020 Census, more than all other states combined.
Getting a complete count in Indian Country has always been a challenge for many reasons, including mistrust and skepticism of government, poverty, inaccessibility and more. Recent changes and proposed changes, from the shift to online data gathering and the attempt — ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court — to add a question about people’s citizenship, are expected to make it even harder this year to get accurate information about who’s in America now and where.
“An accurate counting of Native Americans is particularly important because of the government-to-government relationship tribes have with the federal government,” Bill Anoatubby, governor of Chickasaw Nation, said in a remark posted on the screens set up throughout the hall. “The federal government has treaty responsibilities to provide education, health care, housing and other services to Native Americans. Therefore, an accurate count of people from each Native American Nation or Tribe is essential in outlining the details of those responsibilities. By participating, we speak for the generations of native people that preceded us and for those yet to come.”
“Go home to your people who don’t want to be counted,” Joshua Standing Horse, the Census Bureau’s recently hired tribal partnership specialist for Northern California said. “Turn the system that’s been used against us to make it FOR us.”
Bhutanese, Mongolians, Burmese, Nepalese among fastest-growing but invisible sector.
As the 2020 census begins in earnest, representatives of Nepalese, Burmese, Bhutanese and Mongolian immigrants joined census officials and community organizers at a briefing for Asian American media to discuss the high stakes of getting an accurate count for their communities.
Together with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, these and other immigrants from Central, South and Southeast Asia represent the fastest growing sector of Asian immigrants to California over the last decade. Yet they are too new to have formed the civic organizations or media platforms to make their presence felt in the broader Asian American landscape.
Speakers agreed that being counted in the 2020 Census would change that.
Some 20% of Californians identified as Asian American-Pacific Islander in the 2010 census, said Hong Mei Pang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which co hosted the March 5 briefing along with Ethnic Media Services.
“More immigrants come to the United States from Asia than from anywhere else,” Pang said. “But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and without an accurate count, these newer waves of Asian immigrants will be invisible.”
Stephanie Kim of United Way Bay Area echoed Pang’s point on the opening panel: “We have diverse needs requiring data and approaches customized to each community. If one of us is not counted, we all suffer from the undercount. If every one of us is counted, we all benefit.”
Linguistic and cultural isolation are challenges common to every recently arrived group. But speakers pointed to some immigrants’ experiences in their home countries that make them especially fearful of being counted.
Robin Gurung of Asian Refugees United, born and raised in Nepal, recalled how the Nepalese government used a census in the late 1980s to divide the country between native Nepalese and people of Bhutanese origin. He and his family were deported to Bhutan along with thousands of others. “So in the United States, there’s still a lot of worry and questions about the census – like what are the benefits, and what do we need to be careful about?”
“When they hear the word ‘census,’ it’s like a nightmare,” agreed Ganesh Subedi, of the Bhutanese Community Association of California. His community’s fear of government intrusion, he said, caused it to be vastly undercounted in the 2010 census.
Among its population of 45,000, he estimates, only 19,000 completed the census questionnaire.
In 2012, the Nepali Association of Northern California tried to collect census-type data on its own, the association’s former director Prem Pariyar said. But fear got the best of the community and the effort failed. Meanwhile, the community kept growing (http://facts.aapidata.com/nationaldata/) – by some 222% between 2010-2016, according to data compiled by Karthick Ramakrishnan of U.C. Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation.
“This is a great opportunity for us to establish our community,” Pariyar said. “We don’t want to lose our chance at being represented.”
Population growth of their communities was a common theme at the press briefing.
Myat Soe Mon, of One Myanmar community, spoke about ethnic cleansing in her country based on information the government gleaned under the pretext of conducting a census. “But here,” she said, “our population is growing. We have to keep moving forward.”
“The census data says we are just 32,000 Mongolians living in the U.S.,” noted Urtnasan Enkhbat, a student from Mongolia who wrote her senior thesis on Mongolians in the Bay Area. “We are a lot more. We have close to 10,000 just in the Bay Area.
Our numbers are growing rapidly, but it’s difficult to learn about us – we have no community centers or channels for communication.” She recently told a group of fellow Mongol immigrants, “We live in the U.S. But without data, we don’t exist in the U.S.”
Almost every speaker raised the issue of confidentiality as a further barrier in promoting the census.
Sonny Le, a refugee from Vietnam who has worked as a Partner Specialist for the Census Bureau since the 2000 Census, was quick to respond. Personal data collected by the census is forbidden to be disclosed to anyone for 72 years, even other government agencies and law enforcement, Le asserted. Penalties for violations run to a quarter million dollars and five years in prison. Nor has the data been breached.
Yet even among the Hmong, well-established now as the seventh largest population of Asian Americans, with a 13% increase between 2010 and 2016, the census is still an unknown.
“People my age had never heard about the census before,” said Tammy Vang, a Fresno-born daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos who works as a community organizer for Hmong Innovating Politics.
As the youngest speaker at the briefing, she also raised what for her is a deeply personal concern about the census — how to identify oneself in terms of gender.
“There is still a deep stigma attached to LGBTQ issues in the Hmong community,” she said, holding back tears. “The single binary choice on the census only makes it harder.”
Summing up the energy among attendees in the room, Gurung had the last word about the importance of the census: “We have to make ourselves visible. There’s nobody (else) out there who will.”
Houston may already be the third most populous city in the United States, elbowing aside broad-shouldered Chicago and trailing New York and Los Angeles as first and second, respectively. We won’t know until the 2020 census is concluded.
“In most parts of the country, there has been little or very modest growth, but not in Texas,” said Dr. Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston speaking to a convening of census advocates and experts co-hosted by Houston in Action, the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Ethnic Media Services. “By far, we’ve added more people, according to the [Census Bureau’s] Community Survey, than any other state.”
Texas may have gained as many as 4 million people since 2010, Murray said.
The convening represented the first formal briefing about the 2020 census for and with news outlets representing a broad spectrum of audiences from Hispanic, African American, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to Nepalese, Asian Indian, and African diaspora communities.
Echoing the sense of pride in Houston’s growth, many speakers called the census an opportunity for the city’s increasingly diverse communities to stand up and be counted. A large percentage of the state’s growth stemmed from Latino births and immigration, but its fastest growing demographic is the Asian American community, according to Nabila Mansour of the Empowering Communities Initiative.
“We’ve had about 128% growth from the year 2000,” Mansour reported. “Asian Americans in Texas, we’re about 1.5 million, and 27% of Asian Americans live in Harris County or Fort Bend.” Houston is the county seat of Harris County, Richmond, Fort Bend’s County’s seat, is less than 40 miles away.
Mansour said her organization’s staff spend a lot of time going into East and South Asian communities to educate them about the importance of the census, especially since residents who arrived in the United States after 2010 may have had no experience with a census in their country of origin.
Numbers matter. The aggregate per person count is used to calculate the annual federal dollar allotments Texas counties and cities will receive to fund many state and local programs, from Medicaid to hospital and school construction and road building. One estimate is that Houston alone would lose $3.78 billion in federal funding between now and the 2030 census if the city’s population is undercounted by 10%.
Within the 254 Texas counties, 25% of Texans live in Hard to Count (HTC) communities or neighborhoods, regions or populations with historically low response rates during previous censuses, said Katie Lightfoot of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Kids under five, immigrants, people of color, families that move frequently, non-English speaking communities, low-income households, people in rural areas, renters, complex households – the list goes on and on,” Lightfoot said of HTC tract characteristics.
HTC communities are fairly ubiquitous in Texas. For example, the Vietnamese who rely on fishing or other economic activities linked to coastlines, often reside in rural areas more difficult for census-takers to canvas, noted Jannette Diep of Boat People SOS, and they are less likely to have access to computers or the Internet to avail themselves of the Census Bureau’s highly touted online census survey.
The number of HTC communities in Harris County is eye-opening. “Harris County has the highest number of Hard to Count people in the state of Texas,” Lightfoot explained. “That’s over one million people in Harris County who are hard to count.”
Changes in funding programs is just one result of an undercount. Population also determines reapportionment. If the census captures the state’s growth, experts project, Texas could add another two or three congressional seats to its delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, Murray noted, and likely one more seat in the state legislature as well. And, there is redistricting, redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts so the numerical representation in each is roughly proportionate.
Panelists cited cross-cutting issues they think make this census particularly challenging and that could depress the response rate. Foremost, they said, has been negative reactions to the Department of Commerce Secretary’s attempt to include a census question on citizenship. Despite the 2019 judicial ruling that prohibited that action, participants across the ethnic groups they represented said “the damage has been done.”
A.J. Durani, of Emgage-USA, said President Trump’s remarks on his first presidential campaign trail and his subsequent actions since in office, particularly the Muslim travel ban, have had a chilling effect on his organization’s membership.
“These actions,” Durani stated, “have resulted in fear, apprehension, and trepidation among the Muslim community for any initiative of the current government, especially those whereby information or data are collected on individuals, that is, by the census.”
Durani said Emgage-USA, a multi-state organization, with chapters or a presence in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, seeks to promote civic education and engagement. He noted that although approximately a quarter of the Muslims in the greater Houston area are non-immigrant African Americans, the majority are immigrants from Asia, including Bangladesh and Indonesia, the Middle East, North Africa, and other countries in Africa with predominantly Muslim populations, like Somalia and Sudan.
Throughout the convening, trust — or rather mistrust — was a pervasive theme and one not solely relegated to immigrant communities. Ray Shackleford, representing the Houston chapter of the National Urban League, and national president of the Urban League’s Young Professionals, said mistrust of government is prevalent within the city’s African American community as well.
“I think there is general mistrust when you’re talking about the government, and it’s a challenge because it’s something that’s well founded when you look at the history of government’s interaction with black people and, honestly, its communities of color overall.”
Shackleford, who has worked with Houston’s homeless population, outlined a scenario of a renter who has two people on the lease but shelters six in the apartment. “You don’t want to put that down on the census if you think it’s going to get into the hands of the landlord and they’re going to try to evict you.”
The lack of state funding to support census outreach was another issue raised at the convening. Shackleford said he recently attended a Houston meeting of professionals of Caribbean descent where he polled attendees informally on how much money they thought the Lone Star State had committed to outreach. Because of Texas pride, “they threw out big numbers,” Shackleford said, but were dumbfounded to learn the answer is zero.
In 2019, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requesting funds for census outreach. Past Texas governors invested in census public education, but Abbott has declined to do so. With less federal revenue committed to the 2020 census than many longtime census observers deem necessary for a truly successful count, Turner, as have some other big city Texas mayors, is spending city revenue to raise the visibility of the census.
One compelling narrative that overrides distrust, speakers agreed, is the high stakes for kids if they are undercounted. Approximately 105,000 Texas children were not counted in the last census, said Elizabeth Bille, Texas State Director for NALEO, “and 75,000 of those are Latinos. So you can imagine what is at stake for our community and all communities of color.”
Bille spoke of her concerns, not only as an advocate, but as a mother, knowing and watching young children being deprived of health or educational resources that could be readily available were the census count accurate and communities received the appropriate funding. She also echoed Emgage-USA’s A.J. Durani in advocating for robust cooperation between census advocates and the ethnic media as trusted messengers.
Angelica Razo, State Director for Mia Familia Vota, said everyone already knows why people are fearful but “we need to empower them and tell them why need to fill out the census.” Razo agreed that ethnic media as trusted messengers are vital to educating communities but said there is another imperative needing emphasis. “Put some ownership on community members, they too are trusted messengers.”
Hyunja Norman, director of the Korean Voters Association, brought to the meeting promotional material she had developed and financed in order to reach Korean Americans. She struck an emotional chord with attendees about what is driving her engagement with her community around the census. “I am participating in the census because I am part of this great nation. We are part of this nation. We contribute to this nation. Make your community exist in this country.”
Ebony Fleming, of the children’s service organization BakerRipley, summed up the shared sense of pride of place through the census: “In the space you’re in, you matter.