Census 2020: Ensuring A Fair and Accurate Count

with Jeanine McLean of Fair Count

The 2010 Census undercounted 1.5 million people of color, including black, Hispanic, and Native Americans.

Jeanine McLean of Fair Count discusses how her organization is working to achieve a fair and accurate count of America’s population in Census 2020.

Posted on:

Mar 02, 2020

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: The 2020 census is upon us. And for the first time in history, the census will be going digital, adding a level of convenience for many Americans. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. Why is it important for everyone in America to participate in the census? Jeanine Abrams McLean, vice president of Fair Count, joins me to answer that question and much more. Jeanine, welcome. Abrams

McLean: Thank you for having me.

Hyland: This is a monumental task every 10 years of vital importance. But it is a challenge to make sure that everyone is counted as part of the census. And how do you go about that in a nutshell to make sure everyone in America is accounted for? Abrams

McLean: So, we know that this is the largest peacetime effort that the U.S. government undergoes. It's in the Constitution that we do it every 10 years, and it takes a whole lot of people to get it done. Not only does the Census Bureau have to hire over half a million workers to make sure that the census is completed, but there are groups like ours and others that are working in communities that have to educate and engage communities, particularly those who have historically been hard to count or undercounted in the census. And so that's what we're really trying to do at Fair Count, is to make sure that everyone is fairly and accurately counted.

Hyland: And if they are not fairly and accurately counted, you are based in Georgia. You represent, of course, the entire country with Fair Count. But let's just take Georgia, for instance. If one person goes uncounted, what does that mean? Abrams

McLean: So, the census determines and directs over $1.5 trillion in federal funding to states and communities every year for the next 10 years after the count. And so in Georgia, that equates to $2,300 in federal funding for every person counted and a loss of $2,300 for every person missed. So, for instance, the Urban Institute has estimated that the 2020 census could result in the largest undercount of black and Latinx communities in the past 30 years. And so, for Georgia, there's an estimated undercount of 177,000 people. And if that occurs, then the state will lose out on over $400 million a year in federal funds every year for the next 10 years.

Hyland: And let's not just talk about money, but it's programs. I mean, this is money that's affecting individual people and programs. For instance, Head Start. What other programs are they losing out funding for? Abrams

McLean: So, that $1.5 trillion goes to over 300 federal programs. We're talking Medicaid and Medicare, disaster relief, Head Start, school-lunch programs. And then also infrastructure. So your roads, all of this. One of the stories I like to tell is that my son turns 8 tomorrow, and in the 2030 census, he'll be graduating from high school. So in the next 10 years, if we don't get an accurate count, his schools could be overcrowded, which will affect his ability to be successful. And then, also, I could be putting money aside for his college. But if I have to pay $100 or a few hundred dollars every month to replace my tires because of bad roads, that's money that I can't use to benefit my family. And so on all levels, the census affects our lives.

Hyland: Yet there's a lot of mistrust with the census among some people. Why is that? And what do you do to combat that? Abrams

McLean: So, there is -- Some people just don't trust the government. You're supplying personal information, and some people don't feel comfortable doing that. And so one of the things we really try to let people know is that their data are safe. There are -- It's a federal offense if a census employee shares your data. And so that can lead to jail time, as well as fines. There's a lot that the Census Bureau is doing to encrypt and protect your data. And so -- But then there's also distrust among communities that have been marginalized and disenfranchised in the past. And there have been some issues and challenges with this current census that have heightened mistrust. And so what we're really trying to do is to combat that by educating people so that they know it's so much better -- that they need to take it because it benefits not only their personal families, but also their communities.

Hyland: And they're trying to make it easier for some people this year by going mostly digital. Abrams

McLean: Yes. So, over 80% of households will get an invitation to complete the census online, but they can still complete it via telephone. And some people will get a paper form.

Hyland: All right. And I know that you want help with people. You want people -- You want a call to action to people to help you get the word out. What can we do as individuals to make that happen? Abrams

McLean: We can do a lot. So, one, commit to count. Commit to learn about what it is to be counted and who you need to count in your home. So make a commitment. Go online. You can go to faircount.org to commit to count. Or you can also go to the Census Bureau and learn more about the census. The other thing is to volunteer. The best way to get the message out about how important the census is is through trusted voices. If you're a trusted voice in your community and your family, tell people about why you're going to take the census and why they should take it. And then the last thing is, as I mentioned, it's a large undertaking, and so we have to make sure that we have enough people and trusted voices who will be census workers and census takers. So go and apply for a job. If you're over 18, go and get what I call the census side hustle and make a little bit of money with a part-time job with the Census Bureau.

Hyland: And these aren't just minimum-wage jobs we're talking about either. Abrams

McLean: The average salary is almost $18 an hour nationwide. So they're good jobs.

Hyland: Okay, so, go and take part. It's your constitutional duty. Abrams

McLean: It is. Yes, it is.

Hyland: Jeanine Abrams McLean with Fair Count. Thank you for being our guest. And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders from your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Sheila Hyland.

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