WASHINGTON – Problems still linger for accurately counting urban,immigrant and prison populations in the 2010 census,advocates and experts say.
Members of the National Urban League,the NAACP and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson met Wednesday with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to express their concerns about how blacks are counted in the census.
Marc Morial,president of the National Urban League,said there was a 3 percent undercount of blacks in the 2000 census,according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“That undercount is one part of the story,” Morial said. “The other part of the story out of 2000 is that there was an over-count of the country's white population.”
Morial said it's important to get a complete count in the census to determine the reapportionment of legislative districts.
“The undercount of blacks in the last count and over-counting whites by 1 percent is not just a Washington Beltway statistic,” Sharpton,president of the National Action Network,said. “That manifests itself in goods and services,in representation that cost us.”
In the last census,both black and Hispanic populations were undercounted at higher rates than the white population. But there were improvements in data collecting since the 1990 census.
“The 2000 census was a major step forward in that the undercounts overall were greatly reduced,” said Jeff Passel,senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.
Morial said there are still challenges to collecting census data in some communities because of distrust of the government.
Steven Camarota,director of research at Center for Immigration Studies,said this is also an issue in immigrant communities.
“In the immigrant community,obviously,you have culture and language intrude and make it difficult to gather [information] coupled with a distrust of the government,” Camorata said.
The recession has created new obstacles for census workers,too. Morial and Camarota said that high rates of unemployment have forced many people out of their homes,some of whom are homeless and others who now live with multiple families. Both of these situations make it difficult to count people because they may not have access to census forms.
Passel said the recession might actually benefit census data collecting because there is a larger unemployed workforce from which the Census Bureau can draw temporary workers. Passel said because of high unemployment,more people are likely to be home during the day to respond to the census.
Morial and Camatora said another concern is about how prisoners are counted.
“The problem with gathering data with people in prison is that the institutions have very little incentive to cooperate with census workers,” Camarota said.
Ben Jealous,president of the NAACP,said the issue of counting prisoners “is not a problem that's just a black problem.”
African American leaders said the Obama administration seems more concerned than past administrations about working with the U.S. Census Bureau to make sure everyone is counted. But they laid out some of their own solutions to reaching black communities.
Jealous said the government should employ more diverse contractors that are familiar with urban and black communities.
Morial said community outreach and grassroots involvement is essential to getting an accurate count of traditionally underreported citizens.
“Paid advertising,when you're trying to reach people in urban communities,is not enough,” he said.
Sharpton said using black media to get out information about the census should also be a priority.
Danny Bakewell,publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel,an African American newspaper,said there are more than 200 black newspapers and media partners in the country. Bakewell,who is also president of the National Newspapers Publishers Association,said the Census Bureau should divert more funds for advertising to these media outlets to reach more black communities.
Camarota said the Census Bureau is using similar tactics for reaching both African American and immigrant communities,including advertising,trying to recruit ethnic workers to gather census data,translating forms into foreign languages and keeping an updated database of addresses.