We get a preview of the legislative sessions in Maryland and Virginia. And we hear from D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine about last week's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
The Constitution requires that every person living in the U.S. be counted every 10 years. But counting everyone is virtually impossible, and historically, Black and Latino communities have been undercounted while white communities have been overcounted.
The pandemic has created many challenges for the U.S. Census Bureau and its census takers. Because of the pandemic, the deadline to finish the census was pushed from the end of July to the end of October, but last week the Bureau announced it will end all collection efforts a month early.
And in late July the Trump administration issued a memo that attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census numbers that are used to divide up seats in Congress. Federal lawsuits from various organizations soon followed.
So, what will the outcome of this year’s census likely be? And what if there’s a massive undercount?
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Hansi Lo Wang National correspondent, NPR; @hansilowang
- 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
- Terri Ann Lowenthal Nationally recognized expert, consultant and speaker on the U.S. census, fourteen-year congressional aide who served as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee
SASHA-ANN SIMONSYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Today's broadcast will focus on one important topic, the 2020 U.S. Census. The count for this year's census was supposed to wrap up at the end of July, but because of the pandemic the deadline was pushed to the end of October. But last week the bureau announced that it will end all collection efforts on September 30th. Historically the census leaves black and brown communities behind. And ending the count early in the middle of the pandemic could lead to the most severe undercount of people of color we've seen both in our region and across the country.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSSo what will be the likely outcome of this year's census? And what happens if there is a massive undercount? Joining me now to discuss is Hansi Lo Wang. He's a National correspondent for NPR who is reporting on the people, power and money behind the 2020 Census. Hansi, welcome back.
HANSI LO WANGThank you, Sasha-Ann.
SIMONSAnd Jeri Green is the former Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement with the U.S. Census Bureau and is currently the National Urban League's 2020 Census Senior Advisor. Hi, Jeri.
JERI GREENHi. Thank you for inviting me here this morning.
SIMONSHansi, I'm going to start with you. Can you lay it out for us and tell us why the Census Bureau decided to end their count a month ahead of the extended deadline? And also talk about the effect that that could have.
WANGThe Census Bureau says it's doing this under directives from the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau. This is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appointed by President Trump and it's interesting, because just a few months ago Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross publically took a different position and was the first person to notify Congress, ask members of Congress for a formal extension of census deadlines. Extensions to legal deadlines for reporting census results that will allow the Census Bureau to keep on counting through October 31st.
WANGAnd the justification was there had been so many delays, because of the pandemic to all the operations that have been planned for years. And that the Census Bureau needed more time to ensure that there was a complete and accurate count of every person living in the country. But just these past few weeks I broke the story that the Census Bureau had made a decision and announced internally before announcing publically that door knocking would end a month early. And then a few days later, the bureau confirmed publically that all counting efforts including the collection of responses at my2020census.gov, the online form as well as the toll free numbers and through the mail, all of that is going to end September 30th.
WANGAnd the concern here is that right now roughly speaking there are about four out of 10 households nationwide that have not been counted yet. There are communities around the country that have even lower self-response rates. And what that means is that based on historical patterns and the Census Bureau's research that communities of color, immigrant groups, other historically undercounted groups are less likely than white populations to participate in the count. That this door knocking effort is the way to ensure that there is less of an underrepresentation of the historically undercounted groups. But to cut short that time in the middle of a pandemic and also in the middle of hurricane season really risks a severe undercount for the 2020 Census.
SIMONSSure does. And you mentioned door knocking, which is, you know, the final phase. That began this week for people who haven't responded yet. And we know that that is a really effective way to get to those people who are so hard to reach. Hansi, does the bureau have enough census takers in the field?
WANGThat's a really good question. And you know, it's interesting. In Washington D.C. door knockers actually started last week, the Census Bureau said part of an earlier wave of that door knocking. And I've been trying to track really at the national level the Census Bureau's latest -- they put out almost a weekly report. There's a bit of delay and right now on their payroll for temporary workers for the 2020 Census. There are about 155,000 workers. The Census Bureau says it needs a half million workers.
WANGSo we're about a third there. And it's unclear whether or not the Census Bureau will be able to really all those spots and whether that there will be enough workers in every part of the country that needs door knockers. Because there's a pandemic, a lot of folks who signed up for jobs months ago some last year are rethinking their decision maybe feeling that they are in a high risk category for possibly contracting the coronavirus and are worried about their health. And some folks I've talked to are really worried about the technology being used.
WANGThat there are iPhones that are used to collect this information and a lot of the folks who usually conduct the door knocking are retirees, who are not as comfortable using this new technology, using the apps and that may hurt the Census Bureau's hiring and retention of census workers.
SIMONSYeah, Jeri, you're hearing what Hansi has to say. Tell us what you think about the Census Bureau ending their count a month early and also help us understand the impact that it will have on the black community.
GREENVery well. And I should have said good afternoon. It is indeed the afternoon. But I believe the National Urban League has been advocating for an accurate census for the last 50 years. I've been very active on this issue trying to ensure each decade that communities of color historically undercounted populations are counted accurately in the census. But we know that rushing the census in order to transmit a portion data to Congress and all by December 31st would undermine the largest most complex census operation that will be conducted during the course of the 2020 Census.
GREENThere is no accurate 2020 Census without an accurate complete door knocking non-response follow-up period. The National Urban League believes that there's no chance the Census Bureau can fulfill its Constitutional mandate to conduct a fair and accurate census under the premise of this administrations abbreviated schedule. Our concern is grounded in two facts as it relates to the Black population. First, last decade approximately 3.7 million Black people, count them, were missed in the 2010 Census.
GREENThis is called the omission rate. This number is the actual number of people, who were completely missed in the census before any adjustments are made to get a net on the count. And these omissions for the Black population is a disproportionate number of young Black children, seven percent of whom were undercounted in the 2010 Census. African American men of all ages are consistently since the beginning of the census in 1790 -- well, you know, we weren't even counted as full people in 1790, but African American men of all ages are missed in the census undercounted significantly.
GREENForeign-born Black people, Black immigrants, fall into the omission rate. And a large number of Black renters whom we know because of historical situations with respect to discrimination and housing policies, a disproportionate share of Black people are renters. So well before COVID-19 we're looking at a huge number of undercounted Black people that needed to be reached during the 2020 Census. And we know that these people are going reached primarily during the door knocking phase, the very operation that the Trump administration is cutting short.
GREENSecond and finally is looking at preliminary assessments of 2020 Census household response rates to date as Hansi Lo Wang just said, jurisdictions in areas with predominantly Black populations are trending at best 10 percentage points behind the national response rate of about 62 almost 63 percent. So we're already comprising a significantly larger component of the non-response follow-up universe than we are represented in the overall population. We're concerned about that.
SIMONSAnd you're here in the District from what I understand, Jeri. So you're talking as well and thinking about how it's affecting the Black community here. I suppose. You know, D.C. does rely on this headcount for planning, budgeting, you know, legislative purposed among other things. Talk about how it's affecting the Black community here.
GREENOh my. You know, I live in the hard to count community. I live in east of the Anacostia River in Ward 7. And I see every day the need for an accurate census count in our community. You know, the census count funds school lunch programs, head start programs for young children, WIC and TANF and Section 8 Pell Grants for our kids, who are going off to college. And there's a great need for those services. And as we rebuild coming out of the pandemic our health facilities, we're hit hard. Not only in the District here, but Black people nationwide will need an accurate census count to rebuild and come out of this pandemic standing on top of all these losses.
GREENSo, you know, the other day I was at a gathering -- not the kind of gathering we read about in the paper yesterday -- but none the less a book bag giveaway and it was in the community. And it was frankly, you know, in the heart of our community. And there were census tables out there. These were not Census Bureau employees. This is outreach that community members were doing to get the word out. So there is a need and I tell you, Sasha, I do not believe we're going to be accurately counted here in the District.
SIMONSWell, here's someone else, who's trying to get the word out. On the line we've got Susie calling from D.C. Hi, Susie, you're on the air.
SUSIEHi, how are you?
SIMONSDoing well. What's your question today?
SUSIEIt's not a question. It's just a comment. I wanted to say that I'm a recent retiree. I'm 58. And I am currently training to be a door knocker. I went to my first orientation last Monday and there were five of us in the class, but one thing that I was aware of speaking of east of the river was the trainer was saying, well, what quadrant is everybody from? And we were all from northwest and she was lamenting the fact that we didn't have any east of the river people that could be available. You know, they try to put us in our communities where we might be familiar with the neighbors.
SIMONSWell, thank you so much for what you're doing, Susie. And thank you so much for calling and sharing your story. Also with us on the line, we've got a couple more folks. We've got Lizette Escobedo. She's the Director of the National Census Program with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund. Hi, Lizette, how are you?
LIZETTE ESCOBEDOHey, there. Happy to be on with my fellow census friends.
SIMONSAnd Terri Ann Lowenthal is an expert on the U.S. Census and a veteran congressional aide who served as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee. Hi, Terri Ann.
TERRI ANN LOWENTHALGood afternoon. It's nice to be with you.
SIMONSTerri Ann, for those who might not be aware of its significance. We've brought up quite a few things so far this hour. Can you just talk about the history of the census and what role it plays in our democracy?
LOWENTHALWell, I think you're raising a fundamental point, because people participate in the census if they're convinced that it will benefit their communities. The census is the basis for our constitutional guarantee of equal representation at all levels of government whether it's Congress, state legislatures not yet in D.C. But city councils and school boards and so forth. And then it determines the allocation of literally trillions of dollars in funding that's guided by census numbers throughout the decade for vital services, everything from transportation, healthcare, education, as well as private business investment in communities. And without an accurate census communities don't get their fair share of equal representation or public and private resources.
SIMONSWell, Jeri talked to us a moment ago about the role that the census does play here in the D.C. region. And I want to get into some more of that once we get back from a short break. I want to talk more about the stake here, because there's a lot at stake. You know, D.C. -- the federal government gives more than $6 billion annually to D.C., a number that increases with estimated population growth. So without a census count -- a proper census count that could be very much in jeopardy. So we'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with Hansi Lo Wang. He's a National correspondent for NPR, who is reporting on the people, power and money behind the 2020 Census. Also with us is Jeri Green, the former Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement with the U.S. Census Bureau. Lizette Escobedo is the Director of the National Census Program with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. And Terri Ann Lowenthal is an expert on the U.S. Census and a veteran congressional aide, who served as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee. Terri Ann, picking up where we left off, tell us what's at stake here in D.C. with this census for this year.
LOWENTHALCertainly. Well, I think it's important to keep in mind that the disparities in the accuracy of the count, in other words, some neighborhoods are counted well or even over counted while other ones have disproportionately high undercounts, which Jeri Green talked about earlier. It's those disparities that matter the most, because there is a direct line between how well your neighborhood is counted and then the resources your community receives, right, for more public transportation options to the placement of schools and the number of teachers assigned to grocery and retail stores in your neighborhood and also the political representation.
LOWENTHALAnd so what we're seeing right now is that most of the census tracks what's really a neighborhood east of the Anacostia River that is in Ward 7 and 8 still have self-response rates below 50 percent. And in one neighborhood that response rate is barely over a quarter of all homes that have responded so far.
SIMONSAnd you heard our caller Susie mention that there wasn't any representation from that part of town, you know, training to be door knockers. So there's a deficit there as well.
LOWENTHALThat was very painful to hear, because one of the markers of a successful door knocking operation is having census takers -- they're called enumerators, who come from the neighborhoods in which they're working. So not only are they familiar with the areas they'll cover, but the people who they greet, they see at the door are more comfortable with them.
SIMONSYeah, let's bring Lizette Escobedo into the conversation. Lizette, tell us what your thoughts are on ending the count early and how it's going to impact the Latino community.
ESCOBEDOI think it's very similar to what Jeri already talked about, right. What we're seeing across the board in communities where you have high Latino density, right, we're talking about communities that have a Latino population share of over 40 percent, there response rates are lagging behind the national rate. You have communities in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, you have -- even in my own community here in L.A. County in California where the response rate is at 57 percent. When you just look at the numbers, you think about the fact that the largest workload for non-response follow-up is going to be communities of color.
ESCOBEDOThe other thing that you think about is the fact that Latino communities right now due to the global pandemic are dying at higher rates. They're losing their jobs at higher rates, and so there's an element kind of a sense of cruelty here of our community not having an opportunity to get fully counted because of this attempt to shorten the timeline, and so we're very concerned.
ESCOBEDOWe're very concerned that a lot of our communities are not going to want to open the doors for enumerators, because, again, we've been devastated and impacted by the global pandemic. And so the shortened timeline is a huge concern. A side from the fact that many of us have been doing promotion for I would say years now, right -- or months actually after the timeline got extended to October 31st reminding folks that they had this extra time. And so there's confusion. You know, we're highly disappointed. But, you know, at the end of the day the work must continue on and we have to make sure that Latinos get counted.
SIMONSLet's hear from another listener. Brandon is on the line from Centerville, Virginia. Hi, Brandon.
BRANDONHi. I was just wondering, because the census is constitutionally mandated is it illegal to undercount the U.S. population and what steps could be taken to hold officials accountable for undercounting the population?
SIMONSThanks for your question, Brandon. Hansi, do you have a response?
WANGThe Census Bureau has methods that it has used to -- because there's never been a perfect count. There's never been a perfect census in U.S. history. And the Census Bureau often relies on statistical methods to essentially try to fill in the blanks by relying on government records. But that methodology, those methods have also proven to over represent the white population while underrepresenting people of color, immigrant groups, other historically undercounted groups. So there are a lot of concerns that this time around there might increase use of that.
WANGAnd after every census there is a wave of litigation, lots of different lawsuits by different groups depending on which decade we're talking about who are concerned about the accuracy and want to see if there's a way to challenge and see if there's a way to remedy the count. And so that's something to watch out for as we get closer to the results coming out.
SIMONSTerri Ann, can you add to that? Can the Census Bureau be held accountable if there is an undercount?
LOWENTHALWell, I want to start by saying that I don't think anybody should be pointing a finger at the Census Bureau right now. It's this administration that has put a gun to the Census Bureau's head, and essentially forced it to rush the timeline not just for collecting the data, but for processing and checking the quality of the data. That has been shortened by months. And all of that could result as you said earlier in an undercount that's much larger than we have seen in modern times.
LOWENTHALSo it's likely that the census will end up in court. And we're just not clear yet at what point the results become so unacceptably flawed that policymakers don't want to use them for certain purposes.
SIMONSLizette, the Trump administration issued a memo last month aimed at not counting undocumented immigrants when it comes to apportioning congressional representatives. What would the effect of that be?
ESCOBEDOYou know, one I want to make it abundantly clear that it is not only impractical, but unconstitutional to try to do something like that. You know, the impact in essence would be that you have an absolutely flawed census. We have to think about the fact that when you want to manipulate data in this way, the folks that are impacted are not just Latinos, not just undocumented immigrants. It is all communities, because we know that immigrants are everywhere, right.
ESCOBEDOAnd so, you know, I think that it's important to also understand that when we're trying to in essence remove these estimates of undocumented immigrants from account it's in essence saying that we're no longer counting whole persons for the sake of apportionment, which again is unconstitutional and impractical.
ESCOBEDOThe other piece here is that the element of fear. So we know that while this is being challenged in court and we're hopeful that we're going to be successful the element of fear of what that sparked in our immigrant and undocumented community is going to have an impact not just in what happens with the data after through the Trump administration. But this element of fear might also make a lot of our communities not want to participate, because they may be thinking that in some way, shape or form the operations might be changed to now ask for their citizenship status.
ESCOBEDOAnd so we've have to make it abundantly clear that the operations have not changed and that every single person must be counted. But again, we run a huge risk of an undercount because of those folks who might be fearful to open the door, to fill out their form online or via paper. And so, you know, this is very troublesome. But, again, none of this would be happening, you know, as a follow-up to the citizenship question and the lingering impact that that had.
ESCOBEDONone of that would be happening if there wasn't a sense of understanding that there is so much political power and potential in the Latino community. And that's what folks are scared of.
SIMONSJust about 30 seconds before we take a break. Lizette, you know, many have speculated that this is all about politics and power. What do you say? What's at play here?
ESCOBEDOAbsolutely. Absolutely. I think if there wasn't an understanding that Latinos would become 30 percent of the population share of this country there wouldn't be a need to try to manipulate data, a need to try include a question that, you know, that was kind of tried at last minute from the Trump administration and so it is absolutely about that. And this is why we have to exert our power on this census.
SIMONSWell, we are going to take just a short break. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I am talking with Hansi Lo Wang, Jeri Green, Lizette Escobedo and Terri Ann Lowenthal. There's more to come. Stay with us.
SIMONSI'm Sasha-Ann Simons, siting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Hansi Lo Wang, a National correspondent for NPR. Jeri Green, the former Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement with the U.S. Census Bureau. Lizette Escobedo is the Director of the National Census Program with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. And Terri Ann Lowenthal is an expert on the U.S. Census. Jeri Green, there aren't many institutions in Washington, you know, that are seen as apolitical or non-partisan. And the U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to be one of them, but is it being politicized by the Trump administration? What do you say?
GREENOh, yes, most definitely, it is being politicized. And it started actually before the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Republican Party was sending out fake census questionnaires. They were actually fundraising opportunities across communities. And the Census Bureau received a lot of complaints, as did stakeholders, here. And, certainly, we believe this effort to truncate the census as politically contrived to accomplish partisan objectives, minimize and diminish our count, among other things.
SIMONSLet's hear from some callers here. We've got Rachel on the line. She's been waiting patiently. Hi, Rachel.
RACHELHi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to share, first of all, absolutely, it's political, because why would they want to stop counting unless they have something to gain? Second of all, I worked six operations in the last census, and we absolutely try our hardest to get every single person counted. On the ground level, it's not us.
RACHELBut lastly, I wanted to share, my son is working in the recruiting department this year for the census. And he wishes people knew. They put him off for two months, his entire office. They could not hire anyone at all. And now all of a sudden that they're back, they not only have to have smaller classroom sizes for training, but he said even if in his area he hired 100 percent of applicants, if they would all come in, he said it's still not going to meet their quota of what their goal was to have everyone counted. They have to slow down. And shortening these periods just means massive numbers of people are not going to get counted. He can't keep up.
SIMONSThanks for sharing that with us, Rachel. Appreciate your call. Nicholas is also waiting patiently on the line with us. Nicholas from D.C., hi.
NICHOLASThank you so much for taking my call. I'm a public school teacher at a Title 1 school. I teach American history to upperclassmen. A number of my students are undocumented from undocumented families, and I know they have a lot of anxiety about completing government forms, in general. I'm very invested in getting my students and their families to complete the census this year, but I'm not very knowledgeable on how to assure my undocumented students that it's okay and safe to complete the census. And I was hoping that you and your guests might be able to speak on that for a moment.
SIMONSGood question, Nicholas. Thank you. Lizette, what advice do you have for Nicholas, there? How can he complete these forms or help these kids, you know, from these undocumented families to complete their forms? You know, how are you able to encourage the Latino community right now to participate in the census?
ESCOBEDOYeah, and it's tough right now because of the climate. But I will say specifically to Nicholas that one of our research findings that show that teachers are actually amongst the most trusted messengers in Latino communities. So he actually may have a lot more sway than I will. But there's a couple of things to really communicate to them. One, that their information is private and secure.
ESCOBEDOThe Census Bureau really only needs their data for scientific purposes, for purposes of understanding formulas in terms of how states get funded, etcetera. There is no individual information that is shared. Two, they won't be asked around citizenship or immigration status. So, there really is no way for the Census Bureau to know whether this person is undocumented or not.
ESCOBEDOAnd the third piece is, if at any point there would be a situation -- which I'm not saying there would be, but if this ever happens and an enumerator were to share individual information from any household, from any person -- there is a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in jail. And this is, again, all under the Title 13 protections.
ESCOBEDOAnd so it's very important for them to feel assured, again, that they're not going to be asked about their immigration status or citizenship, and that the Census Bureau is a statistical agency. It is separate from the Trump administration, and the sole goal of the Census Bureau is to ensure a full count and ensure an accurate count. And so it's very important that he express this to them and that it comes from him. Because, again, he's amongst one of the most trusted messengers in Latino communities.
SIMONSTerri Ann, I wonder if you can consider this email here that we got from Bonnie in Greenbelt. She says: I was hired as an enumerator to knock on doors, but because I'm 62 I thought it would be unsafe. It's a travesty what they're doing, though, cutting the census short, and purely for political purposes. My question is, after Joe Biden wins and Democrats take Congress, is there any chance they will do a recount?
LOWENTHALWell, thank you for that great question, Bonnie, and that question is on the lips of a lot of people in policy circles right now. And it is one to be considered later, because it's very important that everyone does their best to facilitate an accurate count now. However, a new Congress, a new administration could consider a do-over of the census. In fact, the law actually provides for a mid-decade census. This is not well known, but it's never been funded. And that census could not be used for purposes of allocating political representation.
LOWENTHALSo, there's still a lot of legal questions, not to mention questions of timing and resources and the willingness of the American people to participate again, that Congress would have to consider. And I think those conversations will probably happen after we get through the elections and next year rolls around.
SIMONSHansi, the Census Bureau is supposed to report the count from the states to the president by December 31st. So, is it going to be completed by then, do you think? And what happens if it isn't?
WANGWe'll have to see. This is what federal law says right now. That is the deadline for reporting this apportionment count to the president. But there are calls from a lot of census advocates, as well as lawmakers in Congress, hoping that this next coronavirus relief package includes some provisions that would extend those reporting deadlines into next year, and possibly allow, then, the Census Bureau to extend the counting period into October -- through the end of October. We'll see where those -- how those negotiations play out and if they can be -- if negotiations can be resolved in time before counting ends in just a few weeks.
SIMONSDoug is on the line, from Silver Spring. Hi, Doug. You're on the air.
DOUGHi. Thank you. I tuned in a little late, and so if I'm making a comment that's already been covered, my apologies. I'm a retired Census Bureau employee. I was at the Census Bureau in the '90s, and I'm sure Terri Ann Lowenthal remembers this. After the '90s census, which was not one of the best ones, there were big debates about how to adjust, because there was a huge undercount.
DOUGThere was a proposal -- in fact, several proposals -- but a proposal for a statistical adjustment. And it was the Republicans who basically nixed that whole idea. I think it's obvious from some of the comments, which I agree with, the undercount is really missing a lot of people who are economically disadvantaged or who are in racial and ethnic minorities. And a statistical adjustment is going to actually account for them, to a large measure.
DOUGThe real question is, will Republicans -- whether or not it's administration or Senate or whatever -- will Republicans still be adamantly opposed to statistical adjustment, if that is needed? And, by the way, that is much, much cheaper and probably even more practical than trying to do some kind of a recount. So, that's my only comment. I just wanted to put that out there. There is some history here that might be relevant. Thank you.
SIMONSYeah, thank you, Doug. Appreciate your call. Terri Ann, did you want to address Doug's comments?
LOWENTHALWell, thank you, and he did give some very good history. And I would just say very briefly first of all, he just dated me (laugh) talking about he knew I was around in the 1990s. And, in fact, I go back to the '80s. However, he is correct. Now, the Census Bureau itself has developed a methodology that would allow it to do some statistical correction of undercounts and over-counts -- that double-counting I mentioned earlier -- to improve the accuracy of the census.
LOWENTHALBut the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives challenged that methodology in a lawsuit before the 2000 census. It went up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the law -- so it didn't even have to reach the constitutional question -- prevents the use of that statistical methodology, he called sampling, from adjusting the counts used for Congressional apportionment. But it's still possible that an adjustment could be used for the numbers used, let's say, for redistricting, redrawing district legislative lines. And, for -- more importantly, perhaps -- for allocating federal resources to states and localities.
SIMONSIf you're just tuning in, we are talking about the 2020 census and whether or not we are looking at a possible historic undercount. We're talking with Hansi Lo Wang, a national correspondent for NPR, Jeri Green, a former senior advisor for civic engagement with the U.S. Census Bureau. Lizette Escobedo, the director of the National Census Program with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. And Terri Ann Lowenthal, an expert on the U.S. census.
SIMONSNow, Jeri, take a look here, or listen here to this Tweet from Roger. He says: if you can't be bothered to take 10 minutes to complete the census online, then the undercount is on you. Your response?
GREENWell, I don't -- if everyone was counted fairly across the board, perhaps so. That is not a total true statement, although responding to the census does increase our opportunities for a full count. For instance, what Suzi mentioned about the targeted -- I'm sorry, the recruitment. You know, the targeted outreach, we've been -- stakeholders have been asking the Census Bureau to provide more hard-hitting, hyper-targeted advertising to reach our communities, especially those COVID hard-hit communities. We need a deeper level of engagement and outreach.
GREENAnd there's a contract out there, a communications contract that's supposed to do exactly that. So, in terms of coverage, historically, there are factors that play into why certain communities are undercounted. And that's -- so that's not a completely true statement that if you don't fill out your form, it's your fault that you didn't get counted.
GREENThere are issues of distrust in government, education and outreach. There's so many factors that contribute to an undercount. Certainly that would help, and we are encouraging everyone to please fill out that form. Don't wait for census knockers to knock on the door. Fill it out. You won't get a visit, and that's our strongest message, along with the privacy concerns that we've all been talking about.
SIMONSHow do you convince black people now, Jeri, you know, specifically black men who have historically been undercounted the most, to want to participate in this?
GREENIt is a challenge, I tell you. And, each year, you know, we are looking at the content of incarcerations, the mass incarceration in our communities, disproportionate incarceration of black men. And when they come home, it's estimated that about 700,000 returning, formerly incarcerated individuals come back to communities across the country. And we know that, disproportionately, they are black and brown. And how do we reach them?
GREENWe have to talk about the resources, the political representation, the fact that census data are used to enforce civil rights protections, housing, fair housing and things like that. And we -- also, I think the most compelling message that really gets to particularly African-American men, is the importance of the census count to their children, to better education options, to programs and services that impact their children. That's a strong message right there.
SIMONSWe have a Tweet here from Chef Chip, which says, this administration has very little credibility with nearly anything, and especially with the census. After they attempted to mess with it so many times, it should be postponed until we have competent government. Terri Ann, if the Census Bureau stops collecting this data on September 30th, like we've talked about, and it becomes obvious that there's a severe undercount in communities of color, and no one trusts this data, is there anything that can be done? Or do we just have to wait another ten years to get it right?
LOWENTHALWell, conceivably there are some fixes to this. Unfortunately, we won't know how good the numbers are, how accurate they are until the Census Bureau has wrapped up the data collection, done the processing that I talked about earlier and the quality check which is so vital, and then giving the numbers to the commerce secretary to report to the president for Congressional apportionment. Until the numbers are public, we won't know how good they are. And to that point, I think a new Congress, perhaps a new administration could consider whether we could use some statistical methods to adjust the numbers, you know, to fix over-counting and undercounting, at least for the distribution of federal resources, for example, and so forth.
SIMONSLizette, if the data is wrong and not trusted, what will the next 10 years in the U.S. look like here in D.C. and also around the country?
ESCOBEDOI think we have to consider a couple of things, right, especially again when we look at the fact that communities of color have been hardest-hit by this global pandemic. It's not only the impact that we're going to see just for the next ten years, right, in terms of funding for education, for healthcare, in representation, right, and how many seats in Congress. But also what our schoolboards look like, you know, county board of supervisors, etcetera. But it's also understanding that we're also going to be hit by the repercussions of COVID-19 in our communities.
ESCOBEDOAnd so our communities could be devastated, again, in terms of resources, in terms of how we prepare for something like this in the future, how we prepare for natural disasters and the resources that we have. So, it could have a lasting effect that actually takes us way beyond the next 10 years and way behind the next census, specifically because what we're going through now. So, if there ever was a time to really make sure that we can get an accurate count, it is during these moments where our communities have been most devastated.
SIMONSElaine emails: The problem and threat is clear. Let's hear more about what is or can be done in D.C. So, I'm going to ask you this question, Jeri. You know, the D.C. Council tweeted yesterday about the shortened census timeframe. And they noted that D.C. lags in its response rate. They also posted a map that was showing where the responses have been the lowest, of course primarily in the low income areas. What can be done for harder to reach populations?
GREENWell, you know, we need to see more right in our communities over here east of the river, east of the Anacostia River, in particular. Every day -- or at least every weekend for the next 60 days, something should happen in this community. We have to reach out to organizations who also serve the released individuals from the various prisons. You know, our prison population isn't even counted here in the District. They're counted in prisons in West Virginia and in Pennsylvania, anywhere else but in the District of Columbia.
GREENSo we need to appeal to the sense of justice and the exclusion that people who were formerly incarcerated faced as it pertains to the census. We have to hold hands with every single organization, here. The homeless population's going to be undercounted, and we know who comprises a large component of that population. So, we need to get the homeless population in the city have a census effort, and it needs to be more visible in our communities.
SIMONSHansi, you know, we've talked so much about the initial delay being because of this pandemic, but tell us how an incorrect census count could actually affect the rollout of a potential coronavirus vaccine?
WANGWell, public health officials rely on census data to figure out how many people are living in the country. And they use this for making lots of different policy decisions. Health researchers use this information. So, by the time we get a coronavirus vaccine that is viable, that is safe, that is available for most of the country, likely public health officials will have to turn to census data. And it'll be a question of whether or not the latest data from the 2020 census -- presumably, it will be out by then -- whether that data are accurate enough and are representative enough of every community in the country who will need this vaccine.
SIMONSBarry Mendelson in Ashburn, Virginia emails and says: Does everybody receive a census questionnaire in the mail? I would think the mailed forms would not reach many uncounted people. Hansi?
WANGCensus paper forms were not sent originally to every household. If you filled it out early on online or over the phone, you did not get a paper form. But eventually, every household that had not filled out a form on their own would get a paper form. And the Census Bureau has said that next month in September -- hasn't announced a date yet -- but in September, supposedly, it will send out paper forms to households in areas where the response rate is low. And that is one of the last efforts to try to reach folks who prefer paper, who may not necessarily have access to high-speed internet or know about the toll free numbers, as just another way to reach households.
SIMONSLet's hear from another caller. Lee's on the line from Loudoun County, Virginia. Hi, Lee.
LEEHi, how are you?
SIMONSWe're good. Thank you very much for calling in. What's your question or comment?
LEEI had a question. I have a son in the military, and I'm wondering how the military is counted. I know there's over a million members in the military, many of them overseas or serving on bases outside of where they normally live. So, how is the military accurately accounted for so that your home district gets the proper representation?
SIMONSThanks for your question, Lee. Terri Ann?
LOWENTHALYeah, certainly. Well, first of all, on behalf of all of us, I'm sure, thank you to your family and to your son for your contribution to our country. And it's a great question, very quickly. So, members of the armed forces who are stationed, stationed overseas during the census -- I have two Marines in my family stationed in Okinawa -- they are only counted in the state population totals that are used for Congressional apportionment that is done using administrative records. And they're counted at what's called their home of record, where they enlisted in the service.
LOWENTHALBut in a change for this census, members of the armed forces who are stationed in the United States and temporarily deployed will now be counted at their home base, wherever they live when they are in the United States, where they often have families, for all purposes. So, Congressional apportionment, the seats in the House of Representative -- hopefully D.C. will have one or more in the future -- as well as the drawing of district lines equally important for the allocation of federal resources.
SIMONSThanks for that. Now, you know, we're running out of time here, Lizette. I want to know, though, what the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials would be focused on, you know, in the coming weeks and months.
ESCOBEDOSo, in the coming weeks -- and we've been doing this for quite some time -- we've been honing in on the hardest of the hardest to count Latino regions, whether it be census tracks or counties. We've been doing a massive amount of efforts with radio buys, digital buys. We're actually going to be sending a mailer to all of those pockets of concern, Rio Grande Valley, the rural areas in Arizona, etcetera.
ESCOBEDOWe're also working with our 6,000 Latino elected officials across the country to make sure that they're inserting the census message in their food banks, in their community centers. And so we're kind of going all-out for this final push. I think a lot of us on the line, as well as our organization, are trying to do as much as we can and what is within our power to make sure that we can say that we've done all we can to try to ensure a full count of our communities.
SIMONSAngela's on the line from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Hi, Angela. You're on the air.
ANGELAHi, thank you so much for taking my question. So, really quickly, because I know you don't have too much time...
ANGELA...I had applied about two months ago, I think, to work on the ground on the census, and I never had any follow up. And I was just wondering if anyone that you're talking to has any suggestions on people that want to help for this final push to get as many people out there counting people as possible, kind of what suggestions they have and how I and others should proceed.
SIMONSThank you, Angela. Hansi, about 30 seconds.
WANGThe Census Bureau is still in need of workers, so you may get a call. But, in the meantime, I'm sure there are a number of local organizations that are looking for volunteers who are trying to drum up participation and do outreach. So, that might be something you want to look up, a complete count committee in your local area.
SIMONSDo you have some quick advice for her, Jeri, before we go?
GREENSame as Hansi. Check out the complete count committee that might be serving your area. And I tell you, the wait time to hear back from the Census Bureau is a big question mark and vacuum, a black hole. So, good luck with hearing back from the Census Bureau anytime soon. I'm sorry to say that.
SIMONSSarah from Northwest D.C. emailed us to say: Seems to me that churches should, would and could help a lot if there aren't in-person services these days. Church members should be encouraged to be knockers. We've been talking with Jeri Green, Hansi Lo Wang, Lizette Escobedo and Terri Ann Lowenthal. Thank you all for being here.
SIMONSToday's show was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, to make sure that D.C. statehood doesn't get lost in the whirlwind of current events, the 51 for 51 Coalition is bringing the message to the rest of America and trying to change the rules, so the Senate doesn't need more than 51 votes to make statehood a reality.
SIMONSPlus, in his new memoir "Still Standing," Larry Hogan writes about beating cancer, the Baltimore protests of 2015 and what it's like to be a Republican governor in a Democratic state. All that and more tomorrow, at noon, on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Thanks for listening. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in this week for Kojo Nnamdi.
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