AUSTIN (KXAN) — There may be more than a year to go until the 2020 census, but community groups in Austin are already beginning to spread the word about the massive government survey that will guide federal funding for years to come. Since past censuses had difficulties counting certain populations, the focus now is making sure those same groups are educated about what’s to come.
The Census Bureau has already identified many groups they’ve undercounted in the past:
- Racial and ethnic minorities
- People who do not speak English fluently
- People with low incomes
- People experiencing homelessness
- Undocumented immigrants
- Young, traveling people
- People who distrust the government
- LGBTQ people
To reach out to individuals in these group, Austin nonprofits are planning to put on a workshop about the 2020 Census. Groups involved include the Center for Public Policy Priorities, HABLA, Common Cause Texas, Common Ground for Texans, League of Women Voters – Austin Area, MEASURE, Texas Civil Rights Project, Austin NAACP, and Voces Tejas.
The workshop will be held September 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Huston-Tillotson University campus at 900 Chicon. The nonprofits involved are trying to educate the public on why their participation in the census matters and what will be different with the census in 2020.
Joanne Richards, one of the organizers of this workshop explained that among the most significant changes on the upcoming census will be the push to get most responses online. While people will still be able to fill out the census on paper and over the phone, people will only come to their door if they haven’t already filled out the census online, Richards said.
Richards explained that there are certain advantages to having online census responses, for example avoiding the confusion that can come with messy handwriting.
“The downside is not everyone has access to a computer,” she said.
The Census Bureau says that part of this change was to save costs because they spent more money sending follow-ups to homes that didn’t respond, some of which wound up being vacant.
The Bureau will be trying other new strategies, such as expanding language offerings and changing questions about children to include grandchildren. They are aiming to reduce the cost of the census while maintaining quality fo results.
Richards added that many people don’t understand things like funding for roads, early childhood education, free lunch programs, and social services are all funded by the federal government based on census data.
So she is on a team reaching out to people in many areas of the Austin community to get people talking about the census.
“Many people don’t understand why a two-year-old has to be counted, and the reason a two-year-old has to be counted, is because they are a part of the democratic process and they will become 50-year-olds someday,” she explained.
Maria Milner, who is helping Richards organize the workshop, said that they’ve already found that some of these hard to reach groups are feeling more stressed out about participating in the upcoming census than in years past.
“So we really need to get people to understand that it is scar,y you’re putting out a lot of information and you’re putting yourself out there, but this is part of what democracy looks like,” Milner said. “if we’re not getting a proper count of our population — regardless of what they look like and what they’re backgrounds are — then we wont be able to have proper representation and we might not be able to have proper funding for certain areas who really need it.”
Milner added that across all ages and backgrounds, many people do not understand what the census does and why they should fill it out.
The workshop organizers know they have their work cut out for them because a recent federal report revealed that the Census Bureau is having trouble hiring the staff who are needed to reach out to these hard to count communities. The report said part of the problem is a tighter labor market than what existed in 2010.
According to 2010 Census data compiled by CUNY Mapping Service/ City of University of New York Graduate Center, the census tract in Austin with the lowest response rate was in South East Austin, south of Riverside and East of Parker Lane. In that area, which has a large Hispanic population, only 42.6% of the tracts households mailed back the 2010 Census questionnaire, making it one of the hardest to count areas in the country.
KXAN went out to this area and spoke with several people about the census. Many of them, like Jorge Alarcon, had not heard of the census before or filled it out.
“I guess I was so busy I couldn’t see it on T.V. or hear about it on the radio,” explained Alarcon, who is in his 30’s.
However, he said he wouldn’t have a problem with filling the census out, especially if it helps the government to better allocate their dollars. Alarcon noted he also knows some people who would probably be more skeptical than he is of giving their information over to the government.