Tag Archives: undercount

We’re Living The Undercount Say Texas Advocates

Fiercely committed to a complete count of Texas residents for Census 2020, advocates across ethnic groups are re-thinking tactics and strategies of how to increase self-response rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all know that we are in a really difficult time right now with COVID-19,” acknowledged Katie Martin Lightfoot, community engagement coordinator for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. “Many of the resources that working folks and families across our state are relying on now to survive are determined by census data.”

In a virtual forum hosted by Ethnic Media Services for media and census advocates, speakers underscored the struggle between bringing the urgency of the census message home to people while still keeping a distance. “Our main challenge in getting everyone to fill out the census is that we’re missing that human touch,” conceded Paulina Lopez, a Census Bureau senior partnership specialist responsible for the state’s 35 southernmost, heavily Latino counties.  “We’re not giving up,” she said emphatically.

“No more door knocking?” questioned Nestor Lopez, an economic development analyst at the Hidalgo County Judge’s office. As an alternative, “we installed loudspeakers on our cars,” he said. Lopez helps oversee census outreach in the largely rural communities along the border, a region where cell phones have limited reception and Internet access ranges from unreliable to non-existent. Filling out the census on-line is rarely an option, Lopez noted.

Tenacity and ingenuity may still triumph over current circumstances, if these and other strategies listed by speakers prevail. If they do not, the alternative is grim. “If a baby is born and is not counted,” said Dr. Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region, “we will not have resources for that baby until they’re 10 and how are communities going to survive that?”

Paulina Lopez, also a member of Acosta’s YWCA board, described one successful outreach initiative.  With a $1,000 reward in the balance, a contest was launched to see which of two competing schools could turn in the most completed census forms from their respective school’s parents. “With this initiative we were able to complete 130 questionnaires,” Lopez said, stressing that the goal is not just outreach but measurable participation and results.

Ray Shackelford, National President of the Young Professionals of the National Urban League which targets hard-to-count urban neighborhoods, described efforts to harness  the mass appeal of Instagram-live events. Hosted by d-jays with countrywide followings, this digital platform has propelled successful National Urban League registration campaigns and is a template the League plans to use to educate younger African Americans about the census. Shackelford said the hope is that the younger cohort will influence peers and elders.

The Texan African American community continues to expand with the addition of African and Caribbean immigrants and intermarriages. If there is any advantage within this universe of prospective census respondents, it is general familiarity with English, an asset not shared by the Asian American community.

“There’s about 1.7 million Asian Americans living here in Texas,” said Nabila Mansoor, census director of the Empowering Communities Initiative, “and we have been under counted for decades.” Not only do Asian Americans live in Hard to Count census tracts, she reported, but the language barrier compounds the difficulty of garnering high census response rates. Her messaging emphasizes the link between accurate census data and funding for health care.   “Some 163,000 Asian Americans have no access to health care in Texas,” she noted.

Even before the pandemic, the odds were high against an accurate count. Dr. Lila Valencia, Senior Demographer for the Texas Demographic Center in Houston, noted that Texas is second only to Alaska in size and second only to California in total population

As of late May, the Texas self-response rate was just under the national average of 55 percent, but it is the hard to count tracts, urban as well as rural, that keep advocates up at night. In the 2010 census, a quarter of a million Texas residents were uncounted. A mere one percent undercount in 2020 could cause Texas to lose $300 million per year until 2030.

Though non-Hispanic whites are still the state’s largest ethnic group, Valencia noted that close to 90 percent of the new population added since 2010 has come from non-White ethnic groups – with Latinx presence accounting for over half of that number, and Asian Americans representing the fastest growing group.

Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation for MALDEF based in San Antonio, has worked to reform the state’s redistricting process for two decades. Even if an accurate count is achieved, she warns, there’s the danger that it won’t translate into political representation.

Every 10 years, each state’s congressional and other districts are redrawn by its respective state legislature after receiving the newly collected census information. “In every cycle of redistricting, Texas has been found by the courts or the Justice Department to have discriminated against Latino voters,” Perales explained.

Even under the best of circumstances, the timeline for the Texas legislature to handle redistricting is brief. This year because of the pandemic, census data will not be released until April 2021, affording the Texas legislature only a month to redraw lines unless it convenes a special session for that purpose.

For Perales, a bigger concern is the Trump administration’s effort to collect citizenship data through the census and ultimately have the citizenship population be the sole demographic criteria used to draw up congressional districts. Citizenship only representation is already a stated goal of the Texas Republican Party platform. Should that occur, simply being a resident of Texas, rather than a citizen, would have no representational weight.

Panelists concurred that loss of political representation would not bode well. They view getting an accurate count as tantamount to laying the groundwork for a better quality of life.

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero) for over 20 years, described what failure to raise the response rate would mean for the colonias (unincorporated communities) of the Rio Grande: “Our schools are going to continue to be underfunded, our roads will continue to deteriorate, public funding for health care will dry up. An undercount will take congressional and state legislative seats from or area.”

“We live the consequences of an undercount,” Valdez-Cox said, summarizing the sentiment of conference speakers. “The census staff suspended its work because of concerns about the virus. We didn’t close down. We just started working from our homes.”

Photo Credit: Photopin



Final Census Tally May Leave Kids Out

The 2020 census, now in its second month of collecting data, is on track to be “one of the most incomplete in history,” according to UCLA researcher and advisor to the U.S. Census Bureau Paul Ong.

In keeping with past collections, kids younger than 5, people of color, and households that include immigrants, are impoverished or lack English-language skills are the most likely to be uncounted in the census tally, a reality that will affect government spending priorities for the next decade,

The nationwide household response rate for the past month has been at least 11% behind its 2010 census rate (https://tinyurl.com/UCLACensusStudy), Ong says. In that census, considered the most accurate yet and with a 74% response rate, the population most left out — officially 2 million — was kids younger than 5.

Being counted in the census benefits individuals and their communities. In general, for every person of any age, being counted in the census is worth an extra couple of thousand dollars of government funds for hundreds of programs, including many that target kids’ well-being by boosting their education, nutrition, housing and more. Since 2010, the uncounted children’s needs have been left out of funding decisions.

Almost 16.5 million kids younger than 5 live in the United States now. The Washington, D.C.-based Population Research Bureau (PRB) recently estimated that up to 25% of them — 4.065 million — live where there’s a “very high risk” that their household will not complete the nine-question census form. And another 9.29 million are at “high risk” of not being counted.

In those very high risk regions, as of early May, the household census response rate was 48.6%, while the overall national rate was 54.6%. Households of all sizes, rather than individuals, comprise the basic unit of census responses.

Kids deemed at very high risk of not being counted live in poverty; among adults 18-34 with low educational attainment; in households either led by women with no spouse present or only with grandparents; in households with limited English-language skills; in immigrant families or in families that are renters.

The PRB study (https://tinyurl.com/PRBstudy) found that these conditions varied by ethnicity. Among African Americans, for example, 48% of kids younger than 5 are considered at very high risk of not being counted. For Latinos, it’s 38%, and for American Indian/Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders it’s 31%.

The very high risk rate for Asian Americans kids 0-5 is 28%. It’s 22% for those identifying as being of two or more ethnicities, and for non-Hispanic whites it’s 9%.

The PRB study also offers some new tools to identify where this year’s potentially uncounted children live, the better to ensure their inclusion in the census count.

Of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties, 689 were home to 93% of 2010’s uncounted kids, the researchers found. From there, the study highlighted the census tracts — typically about 4,000 people each — within several major U.S. urban areas to show where kids are most likely at very high risk of being overlooked.

In Miami-Dade County, 84% of its kids younger than 5 were in that category. In Philadelphia the percentage was 64%. New York was 57%, Washington, D.C., 53%, and Harris County, Texas (Houston), and Cook County, Illinois (Chicago), both 40%. Wayne County, Michigan was 39%.

Linked to the PBR study were interactive maps drawn by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research with detailed descriptions of each census tract, nationwide, and a link to a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

The descriptions, including estimates of how many kids live in the census tracts and under what circumstances, are largely based on information in the American Community Survey (ACS), which the Census Bureau gathers in between the decennial censuses, and other non-decennial Census Bureau studies. They offer more details about people’s circumstances but don’t attempt to count everybody.

Another resource is CUNY’s “Hard to Count” maps(https://tinyurl.com/CUNYsHTCmap) that have tracked census response rates and challenges since the data-gathering process began in mid-March.

Because the ACS and other non-decennial surveys extrapolate from samples, the resulting data isn’t used in the important decisions based on the decennial census, such as how many seats each state has in Congress or how $1.5 trillion of federal funds are spent every year.

If you want you or your kids to be included in those plans for the 2020s, it’s time to make sure you and your community are counted. The next chance will be in 2030.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

Capturing the Face of Multi-Ethnic America

1. Can I identify my race in the census?


Census 2020 collects data on race and ethnicity to capture the face of multi-ethnic America. 

The Asian race category which was added to the census in 2000, offers an option to mark national origin  as ‘Asian Indian’

Asian refers to people originating from the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. An ‘other Asian’ option is available for subgroups from the Asian diaspora such as Pakistan and Cambodia.

The term ‘race’ was first introduced in the 1890  census which distinguished between East Asian subgroups  – Chinese, Japanese and Indian (Asian) while the 1930 census actually had a color category  for Hindus.

The race question and heritage is based upon self-identification which means you can choose more than one option to describe your racial identity. 

2. Will I become a target for ethnic discrimination if I disclose my national origin as Asian Indian?


Some Asian Americans fear that marking their race or national origin  on the census will lead to racial profiling and make them targets of ethnic discrimination.

But the census format only reflects how classifications of race and ethnicity have changed in society since the first census in1790.

Data collected on race informs federal policy decisions on civil rights, educational opportunities, promoting equal opportunities ,and assessing environmental risks and racial disparities in health care access, housing, income and poverty.


3. Is the census available in any Indian languages?


Paper census forms will only be available in English and Spanish and people can respond to census questions online or over the phone in 12 other languages.

However the Census Bureau will provide guides, glossaries, and a language identification card for ‘limited English speaking households’ for a total of 59 languages that include Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Nepali, Urdu, Telugu, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi.

Since 1890 the Census has collected data on English-speaking ability and languages spoken at home to help determine bilingual election requirements under the Voting Rights Act.


4. Does my information remain confidential?


Census information is PRIVATE. The Census Bureau values the trust respondents place in them to be ‘caretakers’ of the data they collect. Information is used only to produce statistics of the US economy and population for federal programs.

Individuals are never identified.

Strict confidentiality laws prohibit the Census from sharing information it collects from respondents. Your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Your data is protected by Title 13 of the US Code.


5. Is this information distributed to ICE and other government agencies?


The Census Bureau does not share respondent information with immigration, law enforcement, tax collection agencies or any other organization. Security measures are in place to ensure that any census data released to federal agencies or organizations, are carefully reviewed to avoid disclosing individual information

Surveys are mailed to addresses, rather than to specific individuals, to protect the confidentiality of participating households.

So, it is safe, especially for immigrant families with children – a group that is traditionally undercounted – to participate in the census.

6. Will I have to disclose my citizenship?


The Census is a count of everyone living in the US including citizens, non-citizens, undocumented immigrants, non-citizen legal residents and non-citizen long term visitors. 

The Constitution “does not say citizen, it does not say legal resident, it says the census must count all persons in the 50 states and the primary constitutional purpose is apportionment.” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Census Expert.

The addition of the citizenship question made people wary about participating in the census for fear it would expose non-citizens to ICE interrogations. But the Supreme Court BLOCKED its inclusion in Census 2020 so immigrants (legal and undocumented), refugees, minorities and their families are not deterred from participating in the census, and the population count is more accurate.  

What’s at stake? An accurate count ensures that each state gets the right number of congressional seats to represent its population and receives its share of $900 billion each year in federal funding to support communities, families and infrastructures.

Remember – you don’t count if you’re not counted!


7. I’m on an H1B visa and my spouse is on H4 visa.  Will participation in the census affect our status?


The H1B visa is issued to foreign-born workers and skilled professionals who account for a significant proportion of IT occupations in states like California and Texas.

In 2018, USCIS reported that Indians accounted for 73.9 percent of total H1B visa holders in the USA and that  93% of H4 dependent spouses were from India.

Though the census includes all foreign-born non-immigrants in its population count, it does not collect data on their legal status. The law ensures that personal information is not shared with any agency, including law enforcement. All data at the Census Bureau is kept confidential and protected from disclosure.


8. How many questions does the Census have?


Each household will receive a form that asks about basic demographic and housing information that covers:

  • The number of people living or staying in your household as of April 1, 2020.
  • If your home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.
  • A phone number of someone living in your home.
  • The name, sex, age, race and date of birth of each person living in your home.
  • Whether anyone is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent
  • The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.
  • Data collected on age for example, helps local officials plan program funding for health and assistance to seniors and children.

9. How do I respond to the Census?

You can respond online, by mail or by phone. 

Between March and April 2020, Most households will receive an online invitation to participate in Census 2020. Areas less likely to respond online will receive a paper invitation. Reminders will be sent out and if people do not respond they will receive additional reminders and a paper questionnaire, or an in-person follow up.

For questions about the census call 301-763-INFO (4636) or 800-923-8282 or go to ask.census.gov

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

All Media Assets: U.S. Census Bureau