Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau runs a count of each person living in the US. We’re honored to have been selected to take part in the Austin-Travis County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, a volunteer committee tasked with increasing awareness and motivation of residents to respond to the 2020 Census. In addition to our work with the committee, we’ll be providing the community with information on the Census and its challenges. This is the second article of a series covering these issues leading up to the 2020 Census, which launches April 1, 2020. In this post, we outlined hard to count populations and why they’re important. Review last month’s post for an overview of the census and why every count matters.

More obstacles

The 2020 census poses a new barrier, as the census will be done mostly online; households with poor internet will also fall in the hard to count category. During 2013-2017, 11.6% of Travis County households had limited to no internet access.

Distrust in the government also plays a force in undercounting on the census; in a 2017 survey of 17,300 US residents, 59% of respondents said that they can trust the federal government to do what is right “none of the time or some of the time.” Respondents not proficient in English were more concerned that their answers would be used against them than were respondents proficient in English. Respondents’ self-reported levels of English proficiency also related to their level of repercussion concerns. Additionally, 34% of people who were born outside of the US responded that they were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” that their 2020 Census answers would be used against them. All racial and Hispanic-origin groups were more concerned that the Census Bureau would not keep their answers to the census confidential than Non-Hispanic Whites (42% of Non-Hispanic Asians, 38% of Non-Hispanic Blacks/African Americans, and 35% of Hispanics responded that they were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” that the Census Bureau would not keep answers to the 2020 Census confidential). These figures on distrust and fear show just how susceptible the population of Travis County is to falling in the “hard to persuade” or “hard to interview” categories, since over half of the residents are Hispanic or people of color and 18% were born outside the US. Distrust in government poses a risk to a full count in Travis County.

And then, there’s the citizenship question.

The Census Bureau is planning on asking everyone if they’re citizens of the US on the decennial census. Since the question’s release to congress, there’s been controversy over whether this would discourage immigrants from responding to the survey. There’s currently pending litigation on its constitutionality and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late April. It’s been successfully argued in federal district courts in Maryland and California that the question would lead to an inaccurate count and inhibit the census from fulfilling its constitutional duty. The citizenship question has also been shut down in a federal district court in New York. Litigation also has ties to Austin, as Mayor Steve Adler is part of the US Conference of Mayors, which also filed suit to block the citizenship question. The high court is expected to have a ruling in June so that the Census Bureau can maintain its timeline of deploying the survey. Stay tuned for another blog post following up on the ruling.

While the fate of the citizenship question is not certain, Austinites are concerned about how its inclusion might impact the local count. In an Austin Community Impact article, Alexa Ura and Chris Essig writes that “local officials, demographers and advocates all agree that including a citizenship question on the 2020 questionnaire would be incredibly detrimental to an accurate count in Texas because it would further frighten immigrants — even those authorized to be in the country — and their families and keep them from being counted.”

Solutions?

As we’ve established in past posts, every count matters; each count can allocate more needed federal funding to a locality and informs who holds political power over an area through congressional appropriation and redistricting.

At the federal level, the Census Bureau is working on programs to address concerns related to these archetypes and configurations of populations to combat the difficulties in getting them counted through Plan A. For example, The National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations submitted a report to the Census Bureau with 11 recommendations that the Bureau responded to in 2016. They mainly agreed with the recommendations and outlined ways in which the Bureau is using existing data, decision-making methods, new internet outreach solutions, and language capabilities to capture hard to count populations on the decennial census.

In 2017, the Bureau launched a Census Community Partnership and Engagement Program to “engage community partners to increase decennial participation of those who are less likely to respond or are often missed.” State Commissions have been established per the outlines in this program, in addition to programs and outreach centered around specific groups.

At the local level, Complete Count Committees are working on ways to motivate the population. Ryan Robinson, Austin’s City Demographer, charged the Mayor and City Council to start setting up a Complete Count Committee in 2017 to address specific issues and hard to count populations for the 2020 census. We’re involved in the committee, which is working on finalizing an outreach, education and media plan for the Census between January and June of next year. Sarah Ortiz Shields, our Interim Executive Director, shares that her main role on the committee is to raise awareness. She adds, “We’re excited to get a complete count of Travis County residents so that Austin has access to funding and proper representation to serve all Austinites.”

Future installments will address the following topics and challenges as they relate to the 2020 Census:

 

  • Tech and the private sector
  • Citizenship question
  • Funding the census
  • Methods: Internet, rural broadband, and data privacy
  • District maps, gerrymandering, voting rights and civil rights enforcement

 

What topics are you interested in? What would you like to be covered? Tweet @AustinTech with census topics you’d like to learn more about.