Civic leaders believe many minorities in New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta and the Texas Colonias went uncounted in the 2010 Census because of community apprehension, strict bureau deadlines and communication glitches, they said in a Feb. 16 media conference.
During the press call, held in conjunction with the release of “The Hard Count: A Community Perspective on 2010 Census Operations in the Gulf Coast and Texas Colonias,” four leaders detailed operational challenges that thwarted Census officials from receiving an accurate count in the primarily low-income Black and Latino southern communities.
The problems caused the Census to miss millions of minorities and over-count wealthy residents, according to Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Trupania W. Bonner, executive director of Moving Forward Gulf Coast, an organization that educates New Orleans communities, said the group received continual pushback from residents who mistrusted federal government because of experiences post-Hurricane Katrina.
“It proved challenging to convince them to take part,” he said.
Many citizens are still in the process of rebuilding, he added, and the areas hardest hit by the storm posed the largest risk for being undercounted. Census officials might not have had updated lists for homes post-Katrina and it was also difficult for census emissaries to discern between populated blighted homes and empty housed undergoing construction. Enumerators may have overlooked homes that looked uninhabitable and not bothered to count them.
Experiences were similar in the Texas Colonias, a tight cluster of unincorporated neighborhoods in South Texas within 50 miles of the border that house around 400,000 Mexican migrants.
Census officials had the “best intentions but were not effective” in reaching this group, said Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
“Latinos have never been confident in census enumeration,” he said, adding that many are not fluent in English, live in non-traditional communities and fear government.
Complicating matters, local leaders in the Texas Colonias advertised that residents would receive census forms in the mail, but census officials instead deployed enumerators to count each house. The miscommunication prompted confusion and led to a rift between residents and community leaders.
“This caused undue chaos and was a waste of good will,” Vargas noted. He said it was difficult to rebuild the sense of trust and local leaders had to prepare last-minute radio ads with the accurate information.
According to reports, many of the hard-to-reach residents of the Gulf Coast could not relate to national census outreach campaigns and localities were forced to craft new modes to entice participation.
Marilyn Young, who worked with residents in the often undercounted Mississippi Delta, said local groups had to launch ads featuring popular churches and governments to garner attention. Other ads targeted Black men—a demographic that is reportedly least likely to participate—enlisting well-known athletes as spokespeople and creating new slogans, including “Man up. Get Counted.”
Despite the preparation, many residents didn’t receive their questionnaires.
“To our disappointment…we still ran into major problems,” Young said.
All three advocates said the Census Bureau should update address files on a yearly basis instead of every decade and begin preparations for the count at least one year in advance. They also suggested that the bureau tap local activists who already maintain trusted relationships with communities, to assist with planning. Another recommendation was for the Census to hire more culturally sensitive and bilingual enumerators that practice transparency.