Census 2020: Securing Resources and Representation
with Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Measurements of census accuracy since 1940 have shown a constant, disproportionate undercount of specific population groups such as people of color, young children and renters.
Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, discusses the importance of accuracy in Census 2020 and its direct impact on representation and access to governmental resources.
March 30, 2020
Traynham: In only two years, Americans will take part in the next U.S. census, and right now, with equal access to $600 billion in federal assistance on the line, there is a push underway to ensure an accurate survey. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. With me now is Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Vanita, welcome to the program. -
Gupta: Thank you for having me.
Traynham: I think, for the purposes of this conversation, we should remind our viewers that this a part of who we are. We do this every 10 years. It's part of the national Constitution. There is a lot at stake here in terms of federal dollars, billions, if not trillions of dollars. We also should put into context that this is how the allocation of federal representation is allocated. So, and we also need to know how many people are in this country. And so, as I kind of set that up, if you will, what's at stake when it comes to people of color, when it comes to the immigrant community and folks such as that?
Gupta: Well, as you said, the census is a constitutionally mandated program. very complex operation that the government does every 10 years. And allocation of hundreds of billions of federal dollars go to every district in the country based on the count, and also, political apportionment happens. So, the districts that are represented in the House of Representatives get drawn by the census. Businesses, companies -- Comcast, for example -- relies on census data for marketing research, and we have one chance to get it right every 10 years. And so, it is really important that there's a fair and accurate count, because so much else flows from that. And for communities of color in particular, having adequate representation in Congress, as well as making sure that communities are adequately resourced on the ground is really what's at stake for them.
Traynham: Vanita, you know better than I do, and I'm sure the folks that are watching this program at home or on their smart device, there's a -- In communities of color I should say -- And I'm overly generalizing here, but I think I'm on solid ground by saying this. There's a little bit of skepticism. There's a little bit of fear by reporting yourself to the government, by allowing that person to knock on your door and to sit into your home or whatever the case may be. But this is important, just what you mentioned a few moments ago. Is it fair to say that, in communities of color specifically, that there's a heightened sense of anxiety?
Gupta: Oh, I think absolutely. I think right now, the political climate is such that there is a heightened sense of anxiety and fear among immigrant communities and what we call "hard to count" communities. These are communities that historically have been hard to count in the census. And what the Census Bureau has traditionally relied on and what The Leadership Conference has been helping to lead the charge on is to ensure that there are trusted messengers in every part of the country, that the Census Bureau has community footprint, working with community advocates, with community leaders, with faith leaders, with business leaders, to be reassured about why it's so important to be counted, and to be kind of a proxy for the government, to be out there in communities to ensure that people are counted as part of this process, and it's really important. There's also communications campaigns that get run to explain to folks why this matters. And so, this kind of thing in communities of color that are experiencing particular anxiety right now, there's a lot of concern that unless we get those programs up and running, that we could end up with a failed count. And that would be at a cost of $16 billion to taxpayers, and that is not something anyone wants.
Traynham: Germane to your question -- to your statement, rather, to my question -- how important is The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in this process? In other words, are you working hand in glove with the Census Bureau? Are you working hand in glove with local community leaders to make sure that, one, there's an accurate count, but also, too, in the process that the people that are actually doing the counting are representative of the community?
Gupta: Yeah. All of those things are really important. The Leadership Conference has, for the last three census cycles, been very deeply engaged, both with the Census Bureau, but also on the community side around the country working with state and local partners to make sure there's an infrastructure there to get people out as trusted messengers, to get the message out about why it's important, and to make sure that folks are getting counted in the hardest to count communities in particular, because so much is at stake.
Traynham: Well, we look forward to having you back on around 2020 to see if in fact we got this right. Vanita Gupta.
Gupta: Thank you. Thank you very much. We absolutely can't afford not to. We will get it right. -
Traynham: Well said. Thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it. -
Gupta: Thank you.
Traynham: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Robert Traynham.