Census looking for workers to count a growing, changing Texas

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — At the Texas Demographic Conference, which was held at the University of Texas at Austin on Thursday, demographers got some insight into how Texas’ population is changing and how those changes may play out in the 2020 Census. 

Attendees discussed how the 2020 Census could have a big impact on Texas and how an undercount could mean a lack of federal funding for things like roads, early childhood education, free lunch programs, and social services. An undercount could also result in inadequate population data for the business community and a mismatch of federal resources sent to the growing Lone Star State.  

A growing, changing state

Steve Murdock, 2007 – 2009 Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and former State Demographer of Texas, presented the most recent available Census data analyzed by the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University. 

In 2010, Texas had 25,146,114 people, that population jumped to 28,701,845 by 2018, making Texas the state in the U.S. with the second largest percent change in population over that time (the largest percent change goes to Utah).

Murdock explained that growth plays out in different ways in different parts of Texas. During 2010 – 2018, the Dallas metropolitan area added the most people to its population of any metro area in the country (1,113,489), the Houston metropolitan area added the second most (1,076,897). Murdock noted during that same time, Austin was the city in the U.S. with the largest percent increase in its population.

While some counties, like Dallas and Harris County rank high for international migration, other counties, like Travis see a higher number of people moving in from within the U.S. (The population changes for Travis County from 2010 to 2018 came from 22% net international migration, 39% domestic migration, and 39% natural increase). 

Murdock talked about how Texas is becoming increasingly diverse. Pointing to a map of Texas counties showing changes from 2000 to 2010, he explained that of 254 counties in the state, 228 had seen growth in their Hispanic populations.

The rate of natural increase for Hispanics (that’s the rate of births minus the number of deaths) was greater than the rate of natural increase for non-Hispanic Whites in Texas, Murdock said. He added that similar patterns are carrying out across the country.

“The reality of it is, the future of Texas, the future of the United States is tied to its minority populations,” Murdock said. “And how well they do is how well we all do, especially the Hispanic population in Texas.”  

“This is just hard demographic facts of what we’re doing,” he clarified. “And a great deal is at stake for us in the state of Texas with minority populations.” 

Racial and ethnic minorities have traditionally been among the groups that are known as “hard to count” by census workers. People who don’t speak English fluently, low-income individuals, the homeless, undocumented immigrants, children, people who distrust the government, LGBTQ individuals, and people who move frequently have also been harder to count. 

Texas has a substantial number of hard to count areas and communities. Southeast Travis County, for example, contains several of the hardest to count census tracts in the country. 

Census Preparations 

“Now is a really critical time for us,” explained Cathy Lacy, the Director for the Denver Regional Office of the U.S. Census Bureau. Her office covers a 12 state region which includes Texas. 

New offices

The Census Bureau will install 50 area census offices throughout her region, including 26 in Texas — one of which will be in Austin. 

Hiring

Lacy is working to staff all those offices now, they have posted office manager positions for all those locations and plan to begin hiring for “lister” positions next week. The listers will be on the ground, checking the list of the addresses and if those addresses exist. 

The listers will begin work in Austin around August, Lacy said, and will take around two months to look into all the addresses. 

The Census Bureau is looking to hire around 50,000 people in Texas this year, which Lacy believes is similar to the number of people they hired for the 2010 Census. 

Federal reports back in 2018 indicated that the Census Bureau was having trouble hiring the staff who are needed to contact hard to count communities, citing a tighter labor market than in 2010. 

While hiring has been going well so far, Lacy says, the Census Bureau recognizes finding all those employees may be a challenge. 

“We are looking at the lowest unemployment rate that we have had since before the 2000 Census,” Lacy said. “So what we’re really looking for is those individuals that don’t know they want to work for us, so we are targeting people who are just graduating and need some work experience, we are a great employer for them, those individuals who are newly retired, but they still want something to do.” 

Part-time positions will be opening up next year, Lacy added. 

Outreach in communities

She said the Census Bureau is also trying to get people who already volunteer in communities to come work for them, as those people likely know how to make connections best in their areas. 

“The other thing that is critically important for us is to make sure we are recruiting individuals who can speak the same language and understand the culture of the person opening the door,” she added. 

The Census Bureau is also working on materials for schools that will be launched in August, they’ve realized that students can be a very effective way to spread the word about the census to their parents. 

Another challenge for census workers will be thinking about the new ways in which people live and travel. Lacy noted that her team is having to strategize for a growing population of American “couch surfers” — people traveling from place to place. 

The Census Bureau will also have outreach programs focused on new immigrants. 

Lacy expects it to take a few months for people to catch on that the census is approaching and that there are people working locally to prepare. 

Changes in the 2020 Census 

There’s even more pressure to reach out to communities this time around as the 2020 Census will see some major changes. 

“This is the first time that people can widely respond to the census through the internet,” Lacy explained, adding that the Census Bureau is hoping that will be the most common way people respond. 

Here’s how she says it will work:

People will first be given a chance to respond to the census online. They can also call and get help filling out the census through the phone, this year assistance over the phone is available in 13 languages. If people still haven’t responded after receiving a couple notices to do so, the Census Bureau will send them a paper questionnaire. If the person still doesn’t respond, then a census worker will be sent to their home to fill out the questionnaire with them. 

Lacy said that the Census Bureau started this community outreach back in 2017 with a partnership program, encouraging state and local governments to establish what are known as “complete count committees.” Texas has not opted to establish a complete count committee yet, though several regions like Travis County and El Paso have created their own committees to help fill in the gaps. 

State Representative César Blanco (D- El Paso) was at the Demographic Conference as well, he expressed disappointment that his Bill HB 255 did not get a committee hearing this past legislative session. The bill he said, would have created a complete count committee for the state. 

“I think the state of Texas has missed its opportunity this last legislative session to create a complete count committee with funds that would be instrumental in making sure we have a complete count commissioned,” he said. 

Blanco worries that Texas could lose out on billions of federal dollars, especially in hard to count areas like ones in his home district of El Paso.

He noted that previous Texas governors George W. Bush and William P. Clements issued executive orders to establish statewide complete count committees for the 2000 and 1990 censuses. 

Blanco also expressed concern about the decision by President Trump’s administration to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. While the administration says the question was added to protect minority voting rights, many advocates fear that it will deter non-citizens and immigrants alike from participating in the census. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to make a decision this month on when this question can be added to the 2020 Census. 

“If you do what they seem to be intending to do now, you’re going to people who just don’t get registered,” Steve Murdock said. “Or you’re going to illuminate lots of minority populations that are — they are a minority — but they are citizens. So there is a great deal at stake if we don’t come to a better design for what we’re going to do.”

“I think it’s more politicized, this Census is, than any other census I’ve been involved with,” Murdock said, he’s been involved in four other censuses. 

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