Census Outreach Numbers Are Still Low
By Dianne Anderson
Jermaine Morris has been trying to get an important message across to the Black community in his census outreach through the Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization in recent months.
Without the right headcount, he fears the Black community would essentially become invisible for the next ten years, and beyond.
When it comes to getting more funding for resources into the community, Morris emphasizes everyone counts, but also how census represents so much more than money.
A lot of people in the Black community are apathetic on the census these days, but his focus is its historical value. It is a reliable footprint for future generations. He said that it is the African American go-to source for information.
“They feel that it’s a type of nefarious purpose behind the collection of data,” he said. “I tell them that it’s [to use] old census records to trace your roots because a lot of our history has been lost. The only way we can track heritage is through the census.”
In economic terms, he is also concerned that other groups are coming up faster in numbers, which also means less access for African Americans unless they are counted. African Americans deserve more, but historically the system has been used to dilute the numbers and representation, and pit immigrants and resources against the Black community.
“Blacks have to get counted. Our numbers are starting to dwindle on paper, and we’re losing power,” Morris said.
Census participation is needed because as the numbers shrink, congressional representation also shrinks.
Over the years, the demographics have changed dramatically. Blacks are spread out, integrated, and no longer have strength in numbers. Recently, he’s heard promises on the heels of national protests of more money coming down, but it may be hard to identify where it will end up.
“We’re going to lose our bargaining power,” he said. “They’re pledging $100 million to the community. The question is what community?”
He also points out that when America established its 3/5 Compromise, the census must have felt the numbers were historically important enough to bake it into the Constitution.
“A lot of people thought the 3/5 Compromise thought they meant 3/5 of a human, but they always thought we were less than human. It was that 3/5 of the population of slaves would be counted to give the population of the south more congressional representation,” he said.
Today, the census count can be used for good and not evil, he added.
It will bring billions of dollars to the communities that most need the funding. More importantly, it can provide an opportunity to get an extra seat where needed in congress.
Harder to reach tracks in downtown Long Beach and other parts of the city where African Americans are under-counted has challenges, including now with coronavirus. Most outreach workers are phone banking, and trying to figure out the logistics of face to face time.
He believes that getting more Black participation must start with real talk about what the census means, including deliberate canvassing into disenfranchised areas, the projects, Section 8 and HUD-type developments.
“ I have to give them full education on it because this is how we’re going to get left behind every ten years,” he said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger recently addressed the problem of how the 2020 census outreach is much different than in the past.
Under the Safer At Home orders, they are compensating for the challenges.
She said the county is making a concerted effort to reach LatinX, African American, Asian, Pacific Islander American and other hard to count immigrant communities through several platforms.
“Because of the drastic under-count of the last census, LA County lost millions of dollars,” she said “Many of the programs and services that directly impact the well-being and quality of life our communities are based in whole or part on the census data.”
Barger addressed how government officials use census data to plan for public safety, build new schools and hospitals, she added. The data also determines where factories, offices, and stores are built, which leads to job creation. Real estate developers and city planners use the data to plan new homes and improve neighborhoods.
“At the current response rate, L.A. County is at risk of losing much-needed funding. We can’t let another ten years pass without garnering necessary resources and representation for family and neighbors,” she said.
Alejandra Ramírez-Zárate, policy and research analyst with Advancement Project California, addressed the impact of COVID-19 and lower response rates throughout Los Angeles County.
The organization and partners have researched disproportionate impacts across different communities of color, especially lower-income communities of color.
“We do know that different aspects of the pandemic have affected disproportionately communities across the country who are for reasons out of jobs, have been impacted by housing concerns,” she said.
“And also by racism and discrimination. There are folks who identify or have questions about their identity who are dealing with many different nuances.”