It’s 2020 and you know what that means—it’s time for the Decennial Census. Every 10 years, the U.S. government must conduct a census survey to count and collect basic information on all residents in the U.S. This data drives the distribution of about $880 billion in federal tax dollars for schools, roads, and other public services. While the Constitution mandates a thorough count of every U.S. resident, in practice, the Decennial Census often falls short—and Black people are among the most affected.
Significant undercounts of marginalized populations, including people of color, immigrants and undocumented people, low-income people, and small children, happen with each census. These groups are referred to as “hard-to-count” (HTC), which means they are hard to locate, hard to contact, hard to persuade (reluctant to participate), and/or hard to engage (hindered by some barrier such as language or literacy).
According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, 1.7M Black people could be undercounted by the 2020 Census. An undercount means that our communities will lose out on the public funding and political representation they deserve. The more Black people who complete the census, the more resources, funding and political power that will be driven toward our communities. The Census impacts everything from funding for infrastructure like roads and parks, to the allotment of child care subsidies, to drawing the lines of political districts and school zones.
That’s right, it’s a big deal.
The census also allows us to draw projections about demographic changes, such as the U.S. population becoming minority white by 2045. In Georgia, this transition is happening at an expedited pace. In response, state initiatives have developed strategies to reach HTC populations and ensure all Georgians are counted. ProGeorgia, Georgia’s non-profit civic engagement table, is engaging its 38 table partners to support census outreach. Tamieka Atkins, executive director of ProGeorgia, told BlackHer:
“The current state is not advantageous for Black women. The status quo is carried out by our representatives and our leaders. The census will help us get better representation at the state capital, which allows more progressive policies to get passed. Our policies and priorities need to reflect the actual population of the state of Georgia.”
Atkins discerned that Georgia’s primary HTC populations include Black men, children, and immigrants. ProGeorgia is employing a number of tactics to reach these populations, including mailers, text campaigns, social media campaigns, phone banking, and flyers at the mall and public transit stations. They will also be doubling down on Get Out the Vote (GOTV) door-knocking efforts by asking voters if they’ve completed the census and sharing census materials. Per Akins,
“Black women and women of color are using our own strategies. For example, we learned from recent elections that 84% of black women who voted brought someone else in their families or communities to come out and vote. Reaching out to Black women can help us reach out to Black men,”
Fair Count is another nonprofit organization strengthening statewide efforts to achieve a fair and accurate census count in Georgia. It was launched by Stacey Abrams and is led by Dr. Jeanine Abrams McLean and Rebecca DeHart. Their primary strategies for getting an accurate count include:
- Creating Black Men Count, a statewide Complete Count Committee that will help ensure a fair and accurate count of Black men across the state of Georgia.
- Bridging the technical divide by helping rural communities get internet access to complete the census online.
- Engaging faith leaders and communities through the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church to bring the Census into places of worship for both education and mobilization.
For more information about the census in Georgia, visit Georgia Counts 2020.
Ensuring an accurate census is crucial this year, especially after a grueling fight to protect foreign-born, noncitizen populations from further oppression and isolation by adding a citizenship question. Thankfully this was blocked by the Supreme Court because it may have prevented an estimated nine million people from participating in the census. Even with that victory, many Black and brown residents are afraid to share their information with the government due to distrust of systems that have historically oppressed us. But as Stacey Abrams emphasized,
“If we are not counted, they’ll erase us from the future of this country.”
Given that the country is behind in hiring Census Takers to do the necessary groundwork, help is needed to ensure all of our people are counted. You can apply for a temporary position with the U.S. Census Bureau, find a civic engagement table in your state (similar to ProGeorgia), or volunteer to Get Out the Vote (GOTV) in your community to register voters and inform them about the census.
Mark your calendar for Census Day on April 1st, and—most importantly—be sure to complete the census online, by mail, or by phone!