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A Fair and Accurate Census is at Risk - #2018APPAM Super Session

November 10, 2018 05:14 PM
By Monica Garay, MPA Candidate at Baruch Marxe School of Public and International Affairs
For today's Super Session, Dr. William O’Hare warmly welcomed the crowd and panelist and quickly dove into the importance of the 2020 Census. He described the 4p’s of the United States Congress in relation to importance of the census. First - Political Power, the census allocates seats in congress and draws more than 1000 single member districts. Second - Programs, data from the 2020 census will be used to distribute 25 trillion dollars in 2021-2030. Third - Planning, the census will determine highways, hospitals, schools, and other public constructed infrastructure. Fourth – Perceptions, an undercounted and misrepresented census influences outside perceptions to locations and can lead to less public and private sector investment. He stressed the importance of avoiding the 2010 mistake where demographic groups such as young children 0-4 years old were severely undercounted. Imagine planning a pre-school for 15 young children when you must cater to 45; this is a recipe for failure aimed at our future generations.

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund discussed the travesties of the 2020 Census; especially conducting the 2020 census at a lower cost per household than in 2010. The Census Bureau’s workforce has shrunk significantly; less offices, less enumerators, and overall, they do not have a culturally competent and linguistically skilled workforce to execute the upcoming decennial census.

Furthermore, Mr. Vargas emphasized the proposed format poses a serious risk, “1950 was the last time the census asked a citizenship question, the Department of Justice asked to have this question added to enforce the voting rights act, but there is no purpose to collect this data to enforce the voting rights act so what is the motivation behind this?” he said. All panelists agreed there is no clear answer to this question. This last-minute addition is risking an accurate census inducing geographical misrepresentation as a result of increased refusal to participate because of fear of deportation, especially under the current political climate. Answering the question is required by law and you can be fined up to $500 for not answering or for answering incorrectly. Encouraging another to answer falsely is a crime in itself. NALEO has been one of the groups reminding people of the benefits of the census through trusted messengers. “Messengers are the most important people right now, those in our community who can deliver the message effectively.  Teachers, and health providers; we need those communicators”.
Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, had a captivating segment accentuating the importance of Census data for researchers and communities. “The Census is the only time we try to count and collect information on everyone in the United States”. Mr. Dutta-Gupta honed in on the fact a fair and accurate census benefits every sector focusing on health, education, and housing. If you use The American Community Service, The Consumer Price Index, The Survey of Income and Program Participation, The National Crime Victimization Survey, Statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics, and others, then your research depends on the decennial census. The Census and American Community survey best provides the needs for the people. Any threat to underfund our schools, hinder our housing developments, and dampen our discovery in social health determinants, should be halted.  If we get the census wrong, we get a lot of other erroneous data, leading to a substantial multiplier effect where we must to face huge consequences.
Our final panelist Dr. Kathy Petit of the Urban Institute, explained Mobilizing Data-Driven local outreach. Dr. Petit highlighted the importance using data and technology to reassure locals to participate in the decennial count and “get out the count”. Dr. Petit used the example of using neighborhood data to improve data count. As Mr. Vargas had mentioned, Dr. Petit similarly pointed out the vital impact of the partnership between trusted messengers and key players in public and non-profit organizations to increase response rates. “Reality is there won’t be enough boots on the ground to reach every single person, so we must think strategically and prioritize and focus our outreach efforts” Dr. Petit passionately said. She identified the Census is 508 days away and encouraged everyone in the crowd to download and use the “Census solutions workshop tool kit”; available on the Urban Institutes website soon. The tool kit includes overview, logistics, activities, case studies, and resources for people to implement a successful approach to increasing census response data.

It is clear, saving democracy through a fair and accurate data is on the minds of many for 2020. For ethical reasons, organizations will not proceed to deliver a message to their communities until they have clarity on how the citizen question will affect their neighbors. Organizations, Local, and State offices propose a call to congress to impede the question as an addition on the 2020 census. With 6 pending lawsuits, the biggest in New York, communities stay hopeful.
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