Census workers in Arlington at their 2020 kickoff (April 1, 2019).

Census workers in Arlington at their 2020 kickoff (April 1, 2019).

As we discussed last week in the first part of our series on the 2020 census, an accurate count of our country’s population is critically important. For instance, the 2020 count will help determine where $1.5 trillion in federal spending goes and how many congressional seats each state gets.

Communities of color are often underreported and according to the Urban Institute, this year’s census could put more than four million black and Latino people at risk of being undercounted, which could lead to the worst undercount of those communities since 1990. And that fear of a historic undercount was felt long before the coronavirus outbreak.

Produced by Kurt Gardinier


  • Jeri Green 2020 Census Senior Adviser, National Urban League; @NatUrbanLeague
  • Lizette Escobedo Director of National Census Program, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund; @EscobedoLizette
  • Tara Bahrampour Reporter, The Washington Post; @TaraBahrampour


  • 12:00:02

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll discuss how we should handle our anxiety and take care of our mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. But first, as we discussed last week in the first part of our series on the 2020 census, an accurate count of our country's population is critically important. For instance, the 2020 count will help determine where $1.5 trillion in federal spending goes and how many congressional seats each state gets.

  • 12:00:35

    KOJO NNAMDICommunities of color are often underreported, and according to the urban institute, this year's census could put more than four million black and LatinX people at risk of being undercounted, which could lead to the worst undercount of those communities since 1990. And that fear of a historic undercount was front and center long before the coronavirus surfaced. Joining us by phone is Jeri Green, the Former Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement with the U.S. Census Bureau, currently the National Urban League's 2020 Census Senior Advisor. Jeri Green, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:10

    JERI GREENThank you so much, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here this morning under such dire circumstances for our country.

  • 12:01:15

    NNAMDIThat's why we're so grateful that you join us. Also joining us by phone is Lizette Escobedo, Director of the National Census Program for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. Lizette Escobedo, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:30

    LIZETTE ESCOBEDOThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:01:35

    NNAMDIAnd Tara Bahrampour is a Reporter with The Washington Post who focuses on aging generations and demography. Tara, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:45

    TARA BAHRAMPOURHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.

  • 12:01:46

    NNAMDITara, I'll start with you. Before we get to the undercounting of certain communities, can you please remind our listeners about the importance of the census and how it affects individual communities?

  • 12:01:57

    BAHRAMPOURAbsolutely. The census the enumeration of every person living in the United States and it's taken every 10 years. And they count everyone living here not just citizens, not just people, who are here legally, but anybody who spends most of their time in the United States. And they count every household and how many people are in each household. And it is used for so many things over the decade. It's used to determine federal funding, $1.5 trillion each year to decide how it should be spent on schools, roads, hospitals, police and fire, all kinds of public services, as well as reapportionment in the Congress.

  • 12:02:37

    BAHRAMPOURSo each state gets its number of House Representatives based on their population and that is reassessed every 10 years. States do their redistricting based on census numbers. Businesses decide whether or not they're to open a new store in an area given how many people the census says lives there. And social scientists and economists also use it for their studies and for their assessments of, you know, pretty much any work that they're doing.

  • 12:03:06

    NNAMDIWell, census packets started going on in the mail on March 12th just as the coronavirus pandemic was surfacing here in the U.S. Tara, how is it going so far?

  • 12:03:17

    BAHRAMPOURWell, it's interesting, because on one hand it could not have been worst timing. It was the exact week that people starting shutting down around the country and these packets started going out. Now fortunately this is the first census in which the bureau is asking people and expecting people to respond as much as possible online. And that means that, you know, from the comfort of your own home you can receive this packet in the mail. You'll also receive several reminders in the mail telling you that there are three ways to do this where you never have to actually come into contact with another person. You can fill it out online. You can fill it out by phone or you can mail it in.

  • 12:03:57

    NNAMDIJeri Green, black communities have a history of being undercounted in this census. And there is a fear that the 2020 census will be no different. Tell us about that.

  • 12:04:08

    GREENIndeed there is a fear. The black population has been undercounted really since 1790, since the very first census in this country when we were counted as fractional people.

  • 12:04:21

    NNAMDIThree fifths of a person.

  • 12:04:22

    GREENWe are concerned about a black undercount, a huge one. And research has been conducted over the past couple of years showing that the black population is certainly at risk. The 2020 census is a big game changer and for the D.C. area in particular it's important, because more than $6 billion in annual funding was provided to the District of Columbia for programs like Medicaid and schools and food and food assistance programs and school lunch programs, section 8 and so forth.

  • 12:04:54

    GREENBut what we cannot get through and what we've been trying to work with our communities about is this fear and distrust of the government. It is rampant in many ways in many parts of our community. And that's something that the National Urban League has been working very hard to do. And that is overcome the distrust to let people in our community know that the census is safe. And that their information cannot be shared.

  • 12:05:20

    GREENIn the 2010 census, D.C. had the second highest shares of residents missed among major U.S. cities. About 2.2 percent of District residents were not counted in the previous census. So we have to do something to overcome those numbers.

  • 12:05:35

    NNAMDIHow was it nationally? How many black people were undercounted in 2010 around the nation?

  • 12:05:40

    GREENThere were about 3.9 million black people missed. It's called the omission rate, completely missed in the 2010 census last time. Primarily African American men are undercounted in every age group almost throughout our continuum of life. African American men aren't counted. And I've even heard figures that say the only place black men are counted -- black men and women are counted accurately is in the prison system. Black children between the ages of zero and four years old, seven out of 10 black children were undercounted in the past census. And it goes on. You know, it's a perpetual problem.

  • 12:06:23

    NNAMDISo what about today? Why would black people be undercounted today in 2020 considering that it's apparently become far easier to participate?

  • 12:06:35

    GREENIt is easier. There is a digital divide across the country. Everyone is not equally endowed with internet access for one thing. And then I believe that and this is pure, you know, perspective perhaps, but things that have happened over the past decade. We've seen, you know, more things happen in our community if it's police shootings and all kinds of things that have given us more reason to have distrust. You know, we have political and racially divisive rhetoric coming from the highest office in the land disparaging our communities and our leaders. And all of those things kind of pile up when that census form comes into your mailbox.

  • 12:07:21

    GREENYou know, do you want to tell your landlord that you have an extra child, a foster child or you're taking care of someone's child while they're maybe away maybe incarcerated or whatever life calls for. Are you going to tell your landlord that you have two extra people? Those are the fears that we live with every day in our community.

  • 12:07:41

    NNAMDITara Bahrampour, what are the other communities that are historically undercounted? And why does this trend continue with these groups?

  • 12:07:49

    BAHRAMPOURHistorically undercounted are lower income households, any people of color, immigrants, young children, people who are renters rather than homeowners and conversely homeowners might get counted twice, because some people own two homes. And so they might -- you know, the people who are more affluent might get over counted. So it's been historically a problem and, you know, continues to this day.

  • 12:08:17

    NNAMDIAllow me to go to Helena in Arlington, who talks about how -- another kind of undercount might take place. Helena, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:08:27

    HELENAThank you. I wanted recognition of the fact that with all of the colleges and universities across the United States the students, who are no longer in those rural communities have returned home and will not be counted in a population that they normally would have claimed on April 1.

  • 12:08:51

    NNAMDITara, do you know anything?

  • 12:08:52

    HELENAI think that's going to make a huge impact.

  • 12:08:55

    NNAMDITara, do you know anything about that?

  • 12:08:57

    BAHRAMPOURYes. This, again, speaking of timing. It was terrible timing for colleges because yes April 1 is the day that you're supposed to basically gauge your household. And college students, who are living away from their families either on campus or off campus are supposed to be counted in those places where they are. Now a lot of them have been on the move since a few weeks ago when a lot of colleges closed their classrooms. And people may not know that even if your child has returned home early from college you are not supposed to put that child as being a member of your household that the child or the college student should still be accounted as living on campus.

  • 12:09:36

    BAHRAMPOURNow some campuses are filling out their forms, you know, kind of based on their records and who was living there -- you know, who should have been living there at the time that the students were sent home. But it could end up being a big mess, because there could be a lot of confusion among students, among parents and among administrators as to whether or not to count them as being there or not. And this is something that the Census Bureau is going to be able to follow-up on to some extent to check those records. But it's going to make it a lot more complicated than it would have been.

  • 12:10:10

    NNAMDILizette Escobedo, how undercounted has the Latino community been in the past especially the last time we did this in 2010?

  • 12:10:20

    ESCOBEDOUsually Latino communities are significantly undercounted for a couple of reasons. So Tara talked a little bit about who are traditionally the hard to count communities, right? And Latinos for the most part check off all of those boxes, right? They have limited English proficiency. They usually are part of low income communities. Many of them are immigrants. Many of them lack access to digital technology, right. Many of them just sometimes lack the information as well. So if you think about, you know, 1790 was the first census. If you think about since then to now, Latinos have been undercounted every single census.

  • 12:11:00

    ESCOBEDOAnd so it's important to understand that, you know, we've gone without many resources since then. Just to give you an example, Latino children in 2010 out of the one million children zero to five, who were undercounted 400,000 of those were Latino, meaning 40 percent of the young children who were undercounted were young Latino children. And so this is a significant issue for Latinos. We do know that, again, Latinos tend to be one of the significantly undercounted communities.

  • 12:11:37

    ESCOBEDOAnd not just Latinos and immigrant communities, one of the things we've realized through our research and through, you know, just looking at the data is that Latino millennials are a huge challenge in terms of being counted specifically Latino millennial men are usually undercounted. And so now, you know, one of the challenges that we have is absolutely informing our Spanish speaking immigrant communities, right, of the census and why it's important and why they should participate, but also reaching the English dominant younger Latinos as well.

  • 12:12:14

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we will continue this conversation about the possible undercount in the 2020 census. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:45

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about a possible undercount in the 2020 census and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Continuing with you, Lizette Escobedo, why has the Latino community been historically nervous about participating and why are many fearing that this year's count will be the greatest undercount since 1990?

  • 12:13:08

    ESCOBEDOFor a couple of reasons, one there's a general mistrust for government among Latino communities not just under this administration, but every administration. There's a general distrust in terms of sharing information. You know, one of the things that we've had to do is really inform folks that their information will not be shared with any other agency not just, you know, ICE or DHS. Some folks fear their information getting shared with their landlords or, you know, planning and zoning from their city, because maybe they have a converted garage.

  • 12:13:39

    ESCOBEDOHowever, this year is very different. I think that it is important to note that we can't overlook the fear that has been in our communities since this administration has taken office. There has been anti-Latino sentiment, anti-immigrant sentiment and so many immigrants in our community fear that the administration might use their information. Others in our community just fear that they might be targeted, which is, you know, something new again for non-immigrant. And so the fear and the distrust is not just again amongst immigrants, but it's also among citizens and mixed status families.

  • 12:14:21

    ESCOBEDOAnd so, again, the more we see attacks in our community the more fear grows in our community to participate. And so the fear is rightfully there. At the same this is a huge undertaking for organizations like NALEO Educational fund, like our partners MALDEF with the Latino, etcetera, to make sure that we let our communities know that in a moment where there are forces that are trying to silence us this is when we have to be loud and be counted. But it is a huge undertaking and, you know, we're -- you know, I always tell my team, all we can do is do the best that we can to make sure that Latinos are counted.

  • 12:15:03

    NNAMDILizette, the Trump administration tried and failed to get a citizenship question on the census. And that fight played out in the courts. Do you think this issue will still scare people away?

  • 12:15:15

    ESCOBEDOYes. We actually did some research. We did a couple of focus groups. We did a national survey amongst Latinos earlier in 2019. And something that really stood out for us was the fact that amongst the Latinos that we surveyed nationally a 50 percent of them were expecting a citizenship question on their form. And so what this tells us is more work has to be done to make sure that they understand what will and will not be on the census. You know, another huge challenge that we have is that although the U.S. Census Bureau has invested widely on various ads and they're great and they're in Spanish and they're culturally relevant, none of them talk about the citizenship question specifically or address the fact that there will not be a citizenship question.

  • 12:16:08

    ESCOBEDOAnd so one of the things that organizations have had to do with much less resources is invest widely. Our radio ad campaign in Spanish actually launches next week where we're informing folks that the citizenship question will no longer be on, but that is a significant dent. It was an unnecessary hit to our community, because, again, now the work is left to organizations like ours and partners in the community to inform the 50 percent of Latinos, who think that there still might be a citizenship question that there will no longer be one.

  • 12:16:47

    ESCOBEDOAnd then two, that their information is safe, secure and confidential. So it will make a significant dent. But, again, we've just decided as organizations, as, you know, as activists to make sure that we tackle this head on and do what we can to inform that 50 percent of our community that that citizenship question will not be on.

  • 12:17:12

    NNAMDIOn to the phones. Here is Star in Washington D.C. Star, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:17

    STARWell, thank you very much for taking my question. I just wanted to make note that many many low income people and seniors use public libraries for their computer access. And now that those libraries are closed, it's really really difficult to do anything online. It's just an added dimension.

  • 12:17:36

    STARThe other thing that I wanted to point out is that I recently applied for unemployment insurance, and to my real real shock one of the questions that they asked to verify my identification had to do with whether or not I knew the zip code for somebody, a relative, that I had shared a home with, the family home 28 years ago. They had that much data, the person's name and the zip code, 28 years ago. And so there really are fears, I mean, I just wanted to reinforcing the point that one of your commenters made about people fearing about information getting into the landlord's hands about how many people or who they had in their homes. I mean, it's a very legitimate fear. Thank you very much.

  • 12:18:27

    NNAMDILet me address both of those aspects. First you, Jeri Green, about the libraries being closed and the fact that a lot of people, who depend on the libraries to do stuff online can't do it now. We asked at the beginning of this whether there was some people who believed that the 2020 census should be postponed indefinitely, because of the coronavirus. What say you?

  • 12:18:48

    GREENWell, the National Urban League is -- the President and CEO Marc Morial is supporting a delay of the census. As it relates to in other civil rights organizations are joining that call. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the National Action Network as well are calling for an extension of the census. As it relates to libraries, we're very aware of what this COVID virus is doing to our outreach campaign. Many of our organizations have partnered with the American library association. So that's why we're asking everyone -- you know, there's a telephone number that you can call. You don't have to go online to do this. And I would hurry to call that number, because we're not sure how long those telephone questionnaire assistance lines are going to be open, because of the COVID virus and the shutdown of various communities.

  • 12:19:35

    GREENBut there is also one other option, on April the 8th, the Census Bureau will be mailing paper questionnaires to anyone, who has not filled out their form. So you should be getting a paper form in the mail. Turn it back in as soon as possible. So there's still hope and there's still a chance to be counted.

  • 12:19:55

    NNAMDITara Bahrampour, we got an email from Susy, "I have been looking at the census online and note that responses are to answer based on where we are in residence as of April 1, 2020. For those of us who spend, oh, about six months a year in Florida, yet consider our homes to be in another state, what is the proper response?"

  • 12:20:16

    BAHRAMPOURIf it's exactly six months, I would pick the home that you feel is your regular home. If it's more than six months, if you're somewhere more than six months, then that would be the place that -- anywhere you spend more of the year. I wanted to also add to that sense of what is supposed to be going on right now in the census and the question of delaying it. Right now the count operations would have been the Census Bureau sending people out -- or their partners sending people out into crowds, going to churches on Sundays, going to sporting events, going to schools to talk to children of low income and immigrant families, door to door canvasing. This is a real sort of like in the crowd social time of this. Now that they can't do that, the Census Bureau is reassessing, you know, what it can do and so are its partners.

  • 12:21:04

    BAHRAMPOURThere is talk of doing a lot more digital outreach, doing texting and phone outreach. And the question of delaying it, which some mayors and members of Congress have called for, you know, there's sort of the obvious reasons why you might want to delay it. But there are also problems with delaying it because the further that you get away from April 1, the less accurate and the lower quality the data will be. And also if you really, you know, there's been even some talk of wanting to extend it into next year. But if you think about it, there have already been several million households that filled out this form already. And so if you've got, you know, a bulk of people who filled it out already and then you extend it to next year that could really complicate and again affect the accuracy of the data.

  • 12:21:55

    NNAMDIHere's John in Washington D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:59

    JOHNHello, Kojo. I'd just like to thank your guests first of all for shedding light on this issue. I was one of you back in 2000 as part of the Presidential Members of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. I'd just like to say one thing and then I have a question. I think there's never before been such a crisis of confidence in the census and particularly since the 2020 census citizenship question, since the questions about whether or not data would be shared with immigration. Back in 2000 we fought to use statistical sampling, which would correct for the undercount. We didn't talk about it before hand because obviously we wanted people to participate. I haven't heard much about that now given all that's happening what that role would be and if that's going to be another political fight to try to get a more accurate count.

  • 12:22:48

    NNAMDIJeri Green.

  • 12:22:49

    GREENI recall that dialogue and those wars back in census 2000 when the issue I believe was raised with respect to the use of sampling. You know, frankly that's a highly charged political issue and I don't think you will hear anyone speaking about at least from the administration in favor of sampling right now. Certainly it's a tool, a scientific methodological tool that would correct for the undercount in many ways, and especially now with the virus and us not knowing how this is going to play out in the long run. But it is a highly politically charged matter. There are merits to sampling. But we may have to wait this out for a couple of years. Maybe until the political environment changes a bit. And I'd love to hear my colleagues respond as well.

  • 12:23:45

    NNAMDICare to respond to that, Lizette?

  • 12:23:51

    ESCOBEDOI will be -- yeah, I will be very honest that I don't enough about it to respond. So I'll hand it off to my colleague Tara.

  • 12:24:00

    NNAMDIHow about you, Tara?

  • 12:24:00

    BAHRAMPOURYeah. I was not around for the 2000 census sampling wars. But I know that the bureau is assessing a lot of, you know, this is such a fast changing situation that that is not an option that I have heard of. There are a lot of other options. I've heard things to try, but that was not one of them I've heard.

  • 12:24:22

    NNAMDILizette, how has the coronavirus pandemic affected your outreach efforts and are you now doing anything differently because of it? You only have about a minute left.

  • 12:24:32

    ESCOBEDOSignificantly so. Now our NALEO Educational Fund has about 20 field staff. We were set to be in the field to do train the trainer efforts. So now we've shifted a couple of ways. One is digital, making sure that we are targeting folks in their homes. Two is shifting the message of the importance of self-response. Three we've invested now in one of our largest radio and ad a buy campaigns for digitalized wallet to target folks in their homes. And right now we're trying to be as creative and innovative as possible with our field team to make sure that we're using all of the digital tools to shift in that way. We're now going from in person trainings to webinars. So it's not only a shift in kind of the work itself, but how we do the work. So it's been significant.

  • 12:25:24

    NNAMDISorry to interrupt, but we are out of time. Lizette Escobedo, Jeri Green and Tara Bahrampour, thank you all for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, how we should handle our anxiety about the coronavirus. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows