December 4, 2016
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Civil Rights Groups Urge Congress To Address Low Census Response Rates In South


Today, 30 local, regional, and national civil rights advocacy groups and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to Rep. Lacy Clay, chairman of the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, expressing concern about 2010 census operations in historically hard-to-count communities in Rio Grande Valley, in the Mississippi Delta area, and in Gulf Coast states – and calling for a subcommittee field hearing to address challenges to an accurate count for the region.

The letter highlighted the low mail-in response rates in the area – in Louisiana, 64 percent; Mississippi, 67 percent; and Texas, 69 percent – compared to the national average of 72 percent. The groups pointed to several operational issues and difficulties encountered in counting hard-to-count communities during the first phase of the census:

Nonreceipt of Census Forms

Many households and communities in the Mississippi Delta region did not receive census forms (either by mail or hand-delivered) and there were widespread reports of nonreceipt of census forms in the Greater New Orleans area, likely related to continued post-hurricane rebuilding, return migration and the fact that many neighborhoods remain distressed.

Language Capability and Cultural Fluency

Particularly in Mississippi, outreach to African-American communities, as well as to the growing post-hurricane migrant workforce and steady immigrant workforce in the seafood industry was hampered by an insufficient number of bilingual or culturally sensitive census staff.

Challenges in the Colonias

Inadequate communication with local service organizations and civic leaders in the Rio Grande Valley led to a complete misunderstanding of the enumeration process planned for the Colonias along the Texas-Mexico border. Civic leaders have now established a task force to ensure a full count of these unique communities, but serious concerns remain that thousands of migrant workers have already left their homes for the farming season. Commendably, the Census Bureau has responded by dispatching a liaison from the national office to work specifically with the local community-based organizations – an excellent example of what needs to be done in other areas of the Gulf facing similar problems.

The full text of the letter is below.

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May 18, 2010

The Honorable Wm. Lacy Clay, Chairman
Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census,
and National Archives
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
B-349C Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Clay:

As 2010 Census partners and advocates for communities that are historically hard to count, we are concerned about the U.S. Census Bureau’s ability to achieve an accurate census in the Rio Grande Valley, in the Mississippi Delta area, and in Gulf Coast states still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and facing renewed hardships in light of the recent devastating off-shore oil spill. We respectfully request you to consider holding a subcommittee field hearing in this region to examine our concerns about full coverage in hard-to-count areas, especially in low-income, Black, Latino, and Asian-American communities, as 2010 census door-to-door enumeration proceeds.

Our active involvement in promoting the 2010 Census allowed us to identify troubling operational deficiencies in the Gulf Coast and border regions that likely contributed to disappointing (and below-average) mail-in rates in Louisiana (64 percent), Mississippi (67 percent), and Texas (69 percent). Below we describe some of the difficulties we encountered during the first phase of the census.

Nonreceipt of Census Forms

Many people were eager to be counted but did not receive census forms (either by mail or hand-delivered) and did not have easy access to assistance centers or knowledge of the telephone assistance lines. There were widespread reports of nonreceipt of census forms in the Greater New Orleans area, likely related to continued post-hurricane rebuilding, return migration, and the fact that many neighborhoods remain distressed. Parts of the Mississippi Delta region, including Tunica, Holmes, Sunflower, Grenada, and Webster counties, among others, also reported that residents did not receive forms.

Staffing Issues

Particularly in Mississippi, outreach to the growing post-hurricane migrant workforce and steady immigrant workforce in the seafood industry was hampered by an insufficient number of bilingual and culturally sensitive census staff. We also are concerned that in Tunica and other predominantly Black counties, the Census Bureau has not assigned enumerators who are both familiar with these communities and trusted by residents, to help ensure cooperation and thorough canvassing.

Problems in the Colonias

Inadequate communication with local service organizations and civic leaders in the Rio Grande Valley led to a complete misunderstanding of the enumeration process planned for the Colonias along the Texas-Mexico border. Civic leaders have now established their own task force to help ensure comprehensive coverage of these unique communities, but serious concerns remain that thousands of migrant workers have already left their homes for the farming season and that the Census Bureau has underestimated the vast spread of housing units in the Valley. We applaud the Census Bureau’s efforts in dispatching a liaison from the national office to work specifically with the local community-based organizations. The current response of the Bureau in the Colonias is an excellent example of what needs to be done in other areas of the Gulf facing similar problems.

These concerns were brought to the Census Bureau's attention at several points during early census operations. Senior officials at Census headquarters and in the Dallas Regional Census Office have listened to our observations and have taken steps to address some of our concerns and to work more closely with community advocates. We appreciate these efforts, but we remain greatly concerned that many households, and even entire neighborhoods in both urban and rural communities, will be missed during Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) and Update/Enumerate operations in the Colonias, both because of significant gaps in the Census Bureau’s Master Address File and because census takers may find it difficult to navigate unsafe and unmarked streets to reach all households and to determine correctly the occupancy status of many structures.

As you know, on May 1, the Census Bureau began the NRFU operation, which is, by definition, the most difficult phase of the census, with enumerators striving to collect information from households that did not mail back their forms. We are aware that some of these nonresponders chose not to cooperate, perhaps because they do not understand the benefits that flow from the census or because they distrust the federal government and are concerned about the confidentiality of their personal information. At the same time, we believe there are a number of individuals who are eager to participate in the census, but because of the challenges identified above, were not able to do so during the first phase.

An accurate census is essential to all communities, but its importance is magnified in Gulf Coast neighborhoods still recovering from the 2005 and subsequent storms and in low-income rural communities. An analysis by the Brookings Institution showed that in Fiscal Year 2008, Louisiana received $8.9 billion, Mississippi received $5.6 billion, and Texas received $31 billion in federal funds for a wide range of critical programs and services, based in whole or in part on census data. Our communities desperately need federal support to both rebuild and strengthen our transportation, education, housing, health care, and public safety infrastructure, as well as to ensure fair political representation for all populations. The persistent and disproportionate undercount of people of color magnifies the harmful consequences of an inaccurate count, depriving the communities most in need of their fair share of funding tied to the census.

The Census Bureau can only overcome the many barriers to participation by working closely and collaboratively with community organizations that are knowledgeable about hard-to-count neighborhoods and are trusted by residents. We remain committed to working with the Census Bureau to ensure effective outreach and promotion strategies and a clear understanding of procedures during this phase of the count. We would welcome the opportunity to share our concerns and propose solutions at a congressional oversight hearing.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please feel free to contact Marilyn Young, Concerned Citizens For A Better Tunica County, Inc. at 662-541-5333 or marmelmarilyn@gmi.net to discuss our request further.

Sincerely,

[the undersigned organizations]

Louisiana

Louisiana Justice Center

Moving Forward Gulf Coast

New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice

Puentes

Mississippi

Boat People SOS

Coastal Women for Change

Concerned Citizens For A Better Tunica County, Inc.

East Biloxi Complete Count Committee

Hope CDA

Mercy Housing & Human Development

MIRA

Mississippi NAACP

MS Gulf Coast Vietnamese Complete Count Committee

Southern Echo Inc.

Steps Coalition

Sunflower County Parents and Students Organization

Texas

ARISE

Frontera Asset Building Network

Judge Carlos Cascos, Cameron County, Texas

La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Migrant Health Promotion

Proyecto Azteca

Proyecto Juan Diego

South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center (START)

Southwest Workers' Union

Texas KIDS COUNT

National Organizations

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Asian American Justice Center

NALEO Educational Fund

NAACP

National Congress of American Indians

cc: Hon. Patrick McHenry, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives

Hon. Edolphus Towns, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Hon. Darrell Issa, Ranking Member, Committee on Oversight and Government

Louisiana congressional delegation

Mississippi congressional delegation

Texas congressional delegation

Marc H. Morial, Chairman, 2010 Census Advisory Committee

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