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 		 [ The 2020 census is plagued by uncertainties. Heres how some
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 A BETTER COUNT   [https://portside.org/2019-01-19/better-count] 

 

 Mike Maciag 
 January 17, 2019
Governing
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 _ The 2020 census is plagued by uncertainties. Here's how some places
are preparing. _ 

 , Shutterstock) 

 

One afternoon last summer, Xiongpao Lee was walking around a festival
in St. Paul, Minn., armed with a stack of forms. Lee was there to find
other residents who, like him, belong to the area’s large Hmong
immigrant community. As he stopped and chatted with folks throughout
the day, he had a very specific topic on his mind: the 2020 Census.

The Twin Cities is home to the nation’s largest Hmong community,
South Asian immigrants with ancient ethnic roots in China. But a
segment of that population remains hard to reach, in part because of a
significant language barrier. That’s something Lee and members of
the Hmong American Census Network want to overcome.

At the festival, he spoke with several people, explaining what the
Census is and how it works. He cited dollar figures on how much
funding is dependent on the count, and he discussed how Minnesota is
on the verge of potentially losing a House seat. “Even the people
who are aware of the Census,” Lee says, “don’t understand how
the Census affects decisionmaking and policymaking.” 

Then he handed over a form to sign, a pledge promising to participate
in the Census count next year. Lee and his fellow network organizers
are gathering similar pledges from various festivals, picnics and
other events. Closer to the Census, they’ll start going door to
door, and once the questionnaires are mailed out in the spring of
2020, the group plans to call everyone on its list to remind them to
participate. “Culturally, having that one-to-one conversation is
really building more of a relationship and trust with community
members,” Lee says. “It carries more weight than just a text or
email.”

The whole effort [http://hmongcensus.weebly.com/] seems more like a
political campaign, or a concerted get-out-the-vote drive. But it’s
just one of the many ways that community groups, nonprofits and
governments are working to ensure that people are counted in the 2020
Census. As with any decennial count, local leaders are keenly aware of
its critical role in congressional apportionment and directing
hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding. 

But with several looming uncertainties, the stakes are even higher
this time around. Americans will be able to complete the Census online
for the first time, making it more convenient for many households but
leaving others without Internet access behind. Relying more on
technology, the Census Bureau will devote fewer resources to field
operations. The agency says it plans to hire between 350,000 and
375,000 enumerators, down from 516,000 in 2010. Then there’s the
political environment, which has prompted fears in immigrant
communities that many worry could result in an undercount.

By far the largest unknown remains the fate of a proposed question
requesting an individual’s citizenship status. The Trump
administration last year moved to add the question, but state and
local officials, along with many government associations and advocacy
groups, have strongly opposed it, saying it would taint the Census.
The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the matter; observers expect
the issue to be resolved by the time the Census Bureau begins printing
operations in June.

_(SOURCE: 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study)_

In the meantime, many communities are already getting ready. They’re
organizing their Census efforts and holding initial meetings of what
are known as Complete Count Committees. Several states have allocated
targeted funding, although most haven’t yet committed substantial
sums of money. Some of the most novel ideas for Census outreach
initiatives often originate with nonprofits.

To get a sense of the ideas being considered around the country,
_Governing_ interviewed two dozen officials with state and local
governments, nonprofits and the Census Bureau. Here’s a look at some
of the more innovative ways they’re planning to ensure that all
residents are counted.

Targeted Follow-Up 

Minnesota is hardly the only place worried about an undercount of
immigrant residents. In Miami, for example, with hundreds of thousands
of immigrants from all over the world, counting area residents
represents an especially daunting challenge. Many residents who moved
from places such as Brazil and Haiti don’t speak English or Spanish,
and they need assistance responding to the Census. Others, after
fleeing their home countries, may be wary of the federal government
collecting their information.

Lubby Navarro, a Miami-Dade County school board member who led the
county’s 2010 organizing efforts, predicts that this Census will
require a greater level of engagement. Compounding concerns about
immigrants not participating, the Miami region has experienced
substantial growth over the decade, and with it a housing shortage.
Householders may be hesitant to identify all the people living there
if they think it could get them in trouble with landlords. “I am
very fearful of a large undercount,” Navarro says, “especially for
minorities and hard-to-count populations.” A Census Bureau planning
survey found about a third of foreign-born respondents expressed fears
that their responses to the 2020 Census would be used against them.

In 2010, the Census Bureau published initial data showing rates of
completed questionnaires several weeks after they were mailed.
Miami-Dade County used it to identify a couple dozen low-responding
neighborhoods, denoted as Census tracts, to target their follow-up
efforts. County employees and volunteers from local organizations went
door to door and held events in the neighborhoods urging residents to
participate. An automated phone system called families in
low-responding areas reminding them to fill out their forms. It was
important, Navarro says, that they had the right people on the ground
assigned to cover neighborhoods they either lived in or were familiar
with. “You want people who know the buildings and are not fearful of
going to the areas,” she says. “If not, you’re going to have a
disconnect.” 

In households with language barriers, kids often serve as translators
for parents. So officials in different states say they’re seeking to
incorporate the Census into the K-12 curriculum. Mailed questionnaires
will be printed in English and Spanish, while the online form will be
available in several other languages.

Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. intends to
carry out a focused follow-up effort in 2020. He emphasized the need
to reassure residents their information is safe and show how programs
they depend on rely on an accurate count. “It’s not just a
challenge of logistics. It’ll be a political challenge, too.”

The ‘Shadow Census’

Detroit might not wait until 2020 for its Census. City officials are
in the planning stages of what Victoria Kovari, who heads the
Department of Neighborhoods, calls a “shadow census.” The idea is
to conduct a scaled-down dry run in the city’s seven council
districts later this year to gather crucial information for the actual
count.

Kovari said the effort could consist of a massive number of volunteers
going door to door, the city sending out its own forms or a
combination of both. “We want to be able to identify key leaders in
each of these Census tracts, strengthen and build the network that
will pay dividends down the road,” she says. Like other cities,
Detroit maintains databases of addresses that it shares with the
Census Bureau for mailing out questionnaires. Part of its testing will
include sending out print newsletters and fine-tuning the mailing
address data based on bounce rates.

A Census dry run could be particularly useful in a city like Detroit,
which has experienced major population shifts over the past decade. As
parts of many neighborhoods have been demolished and residents have
moved to different parts of the city, officials hope to gain a better
understanding of where housing units are vacant or occupied. That way,
they’ll know where to best target their efforts come 2020.

Resource Sharing 

Back in 2010, the city of Los Angeles and surrounding L.A. County each
pursued separate Census outreach efforts. This time around, they’re
working together, forming a joint Complete Count Committee and
collaborating on a slew of different projects. “We eliminated the
duplication of efforts and the need for our partners to go to two
different meetings where we’re talking about the same thing,” says
Maria de la Luz Garcia, director of the city’s Census initiative.
The two governments are, for instance, planning joint efforts for
Census recruitment and establishing universal definitions of
hard-to-count populations so that everyone is on the same page.

Meanwhile at the state level, Ditas Katague, California’s Complete
Count director, is developing a mapping tool to help guide planning
statewide. It’s expected to include hard-to-count populations,
Internet subscription rates and areas where partner organizations are
working, among other data. Officials anticipate also using the tool to
redeploy resources in real time: The Census Bureau has agreed to share
a daily feed of response rates with California in 2020.

The California Legislature has allocated $90 million for Census
outreach, dwarfing funding other states have earmarked so far and far
exceeding the few million dollars California budgeted for 2010. The
idea is to bolster grassroots organizing, with nearly all the funding
distributed to counties and their partners. “What we see sitting
here in Sacramento,” Katague says, “may not be as effective as the
messaging that comes from the local level.”

To augment its state funding, the city of Los Angeles has entered into
a public-private partnership with the California Community Foundation
for a local pooled fund. The city has already committed $2 million,
significantly more than in 2010. But the additional investment, while
significant, still pales in comparison to just how much it could lose
from an inaccurate count. The city estimates it receives between $700
million and a few billion dollars in annual federal funding on the
basis of its immigrant population alone. “The city is heavily
invested, and part of that is the environment we’re in,” de la Luz
Garcia says.

Other places across the country are exploring similar public-private
partnerships. King County, Wash., for example, is looking into a
pooled regional funding model with its localities and philanthropic
organizations. County official Dylan Ordoñez says the aim is to
“remove barriers and make dollars easier to access through
consolidation.”

Kiosks

For the first time, Americans will have the option of completing the
Census online in 2020 instead of filling out a paper questionnaire.
But many poorer households, already among the most difficult to count,
lack Internet access.

To bridge the digital divide, a number of local governments plan to
set up kiosks at different locations where residents can complete and
submit their responses online. “It’s really trying to make the
Census as accessible and as forward-facing as possible so people know
it’s there, and hopefully avoid an undercount,” says Nick Kuwada,
who is heading Census coordination for Santa Clara County, Calif.

What these kiosks actually look like has yet to be determined. For its
test in Providence County, R.I., last year, the Census Bureau
installed
[https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/usps.html]
special terminals in post offices. Local governments might opt instead
to set up laptops at tables or use iPads or other computer tablets.
“It’s going to be flexible and fluid because it will be in a lot
of different places,” Kuwada says. “If it’s in a place of
worship, it might look a lot different than if it’s in a county
hospital.” 

_The Census Bureau installed kiosks in 30 Rhode Island post offices
last year to test the technology. In 2020, Americans will be able to
complete the Census online for the first time. (U.S. Census Bureau)_

Libraries have always played a major part in promoting enumeration
efforts, hosting more than 6,000 Census outreach sites for the 2010
Census, according to the American Library Association
[http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/ALACensusBrief.pdf].
But their role could be even larger this time, given that the federal
government is shifting to online enumeration, opening about half as
many area Census offices as in 2010. Library staff could offer
assistance at kiosks, or patrons will follow prompts after they log in
to computer systems directing them to complete the online form. 

Recreation centers or schools could also house kiosks; Wi-Fi kiosks
could even be located in public spaces outdoors. Los Angeles has
proposed mobile kiosks for airport passengers waiting at Los Angeles
International Airport. To reach hard-to-count populations, officials
are especially interested in placing kiosks in establishments with a
high degree of public trust, such as health clinics or houses of
worship.

Staffing Up 

In every community, staffing is crucial for obtaining an accurate
count. Temporary staff, including enumerators who follow up with
nonresponding households, are a major part of any Census effort. But
the federal government has struggled to hire enough qualified
enumerators in prior Censuses, and recruitment in 2020 could be
especially challenging if the economy remains strong and few people
are looking for work. A recent report
[https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/693450.pdf] from the Government
Accountability Office found small applicant pools and high turnover
have hindered early hiring thus far. 

That’s part of the reason why the National League of Cities (NLC) is
recommending
[https://www.nlc.org/sites/default/files/users/user89/CS_CENSUS_MAG_FINAL_1116_0.pdf]
officials become more engaged in recruitment than they have in the
past. “It’s an opportunity for city leaders to go into the
communities they know will be hard to count, tap into social service
organizations and connect them to these jobs,” says Alex Jones, the
manager of NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative.

One city that’s focusing extensively on recruitment is San Jose,
Calif. “We feel like the enumerators are going to play a huge role
in bringing up response rates,” says San Jose Director of Strategic
Partnerships Jeff Ruster. It’s critical, Census coordinators say,
that these employees are trusted in their assigned communities and can
overcome any language barriers. Another challenge is that it can be
hard to keep temporary Census hires on board for the duration of the
job: Many of them quit early if they find other employment. San Jose
plans to limit attrition by connecting hires with full-time positions
once the Census wraps up. The city has worked with local employers to
identify jobs with similar skill sets, positions such as customer
service representatives, insurance claims clerks and eligibility
interviewers for government programs. With the prospect of full
employment on the horizon, the city hopes enumerators will be more
likely to serve their full terms.

New York City plans to augment the Census Bureau by incorporating
Census work into its summer youth employment program. While
participants will not be canvasing alongside enumerators—federal law
prohibits volunteers from presenting themselves as federal
employees—they will be able to assist in organizing and conducting
outreach in targeted neighborhoods. New York is also exploring hiring
noncitizens to help with outreach; they are often in the best position
to connect with hard-to-count groups.

All Hands on Deck

Given the anticipated staffing constraints for the 2020 Census, many
states and localities are planning to rely extensively on their own
workforces to engage the public. While they’ve played roles in prior
counts, the breadth and scope of mobilization efforts is widening for
next year.  

With its vast immigrant population, New York City says it plans to
involve its social services agencies, police, parks and recreation
workers, and several other public-facing departments. “New York is
always in danger of an undercount,” says Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson.
A unit in the mayor’s office will recruit city staff from all
departments for outreach, language assistance and other activities.
Some localities are considering offering Census assistance via their
211 phone systems, as many of the callers to those lines often
correspond with historically undercounted groups.

California previously contracted with counselors in the Women, Infant,
and Children (WIC) program to discuss the Census with their clients,
who are among the most frequently undercounted. Other types of
state-level departments with caseworkers might employ similar
approaches.

New York views the Census as an opportunity to establish a dialogue
with residents and maintain those lines of communication even after
the count is over. Thompson recalls a meeting with residents of a
Harlem public housing development last year. They agreed to assist
with the 2020 Census, but also said they wanted help combating rats
and raccoons. The city responded by establishing a public housing
resident pest removal training program. “It’s not just about
filling out a piece of paper,” Thompson says. “We want to create
an infrastructure so that when people want to know where to go, we can
use these very same networks.” 

Mike Maciag [http://www.governing.com/authors/Mike-Maciag.html] | Data
Editor | [log in to unmask]  |  @mikemaciag
[http://www.twitter.com/mikemaciag] 

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