Dozens of black community leaders gathered Wednesday at Mt. Zion Church on Madison’s south side to urge full participation in the 2020 Census to ensure the city receives the funding and political representation that comes from the decennial count.
Census coverage varies across demographic characteristics, and African Americans have historically been undercounted. In 2010, the census did not account for 2.1% of the black population.
“In a nation that is trying to erase us as black people, it is our duty and responsibility to stand up and be counted and be seen and be heard,” said Vanessa McDowell, CEO of YWCA Madison. “As we must vote because our ancestors fought for us to do so, we must also be counted because our ancestors fought to be counted as fully human beings.”
Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, expressed her commitment to reaching the black community, noting that the result of the census will affect people every day.
“Taking part in the 2020 Census is an act of social justice,” Stubbs said.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that all people in the United States must be counted every 10 years. Data from the decennial count determines billions of dollars in federal funding and is used to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“If you’re not counted, you are invisible because the dollars follow the numbers,” said Corinda Rainy-Moore, a member of three Complete Count Committees representing the city, Dane County and state of Wisconsin.
Greg Jones, president of the NAACP Dane County branch, said participating in the census is critical for communities of color because they are more “susceptible” to an undercount. Historically, African Americans have not been counted, Jones said.
“Although a fair and accurate count is a constitutional mandate, African Americans have had to fight to receive fair and accurate representation dating back to 1787 … when the three-fifths compromise was established by lawmakers as a way to count population,” Jones said.
The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, used demographic projections and Census Bureau data to create projections of potential counts —overall, by state, and by demographic group— under three scenarios, reflecting the miscount risk as low, medium and high.
Nationally, black residents could be undercounted by as much as 3.68%, or 1.7 million people, according to the Urban Institute’s data released last June. In Wisconsin, as much as 3.82%, 16,300, of black residents could be undercounted.
In Dane County, the Census Bureau has identified several census tracts in south Madison that saw 2010 Census mail return rates of 73% or less. These areas also had higher percentages of renters, ranging between 69% and about 77%.
The U.S. Census Bureau considers renters as a hard-to-count population.
“South Madison, This is our time,” Ald. Sheri Carter, District 14, said. “It is our opportunity and our moment to be counted in the 2020 Census."
The 2020 Census faces new challenges, which could affect response rates. This is the first time in the history of the census that people will be able to respond online.
This year, most households will be able to start participating around mid-March when the Census Bureau plans to send instructions on how to take the census to almost all homes.
In Dane County, a majority of households will receive mailings in English only explaining how to submit census responses online or by phone. Some households will receive instructions in English and Spanish and others will receive a paper census form to submit.
Also over the summer, President Donald Trump’s administration attempted to place a citizenship question on the census, which led to striking in many immigrant communities.
"It is all our responsibility to reach the immigrant community," Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, said
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