Congressional Black Caucus Launches 2020 Census Task Force

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has launched a task force focused on the upcoming 2020 Census. CBC members will discuss what tools are required to effectively reach out to communities throughout the US that are labeled “hard to count.” CBC Chair Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) noted in a statement that the upcoming census will be administered digitally, which may skew the count as some Americans might not have access to computers or the Internet. “The Constitution declares that we must count all persons in this country. The Trump administration has taken coordinated action specifically to discourage and frighten people away from participating in the 2020 census, and now we are fighting back,” Congressman Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said in a statement.

Horsford, who will chair the CBC Census 2020 Taskforce, said that he was participating on behalf of his constituents in Nevada. “Undercounting urban communities like mine can result in an unfair distribution of congressional seats and deny communities of color, specifically Black communities, access to representation in Congress,” he said. “We only get one chance every ten years to get this right. Let’s make it count.”

The US Constitution legally requires that a census is conducted every 10 years to determine how many congressional seats and electoral college votes each state gets. The data gathered by the census also determines how more than $800 billion in federal funds annually are distributed for different federal welfare programs. African Americans have a long history of being undercounted in the census, going back to the first census in 1790.

In 1790, the North and the South came to a compromise and decided to count enslaved Africans as just three-fifths of a person for congressional representation and taxation. Black Americans continue to be undercounted in modern census counts. The Decennial Statistics Studies Division of the Department of Commerce estimated that the 1990 census had “a net undercount of about 4 percent for African Americans.” In 2000, that number dropped to 2 percent, or around 800,000 people. The most recent census in 2010 did not show a significant change in the undercount of Black Americans, “despite the net undercount being the lowest it had been in history,” the agency said. “Vital services for each community are directly tied to the census counts,” Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “We already know that Black communities are undercounted, underscored by the fact that my district, NY-09, has one of the hardest-to-count districts in America. We must empower Black communities to understand the power of filling out the Census, so each community receives access to critically-needed resources in their backyards.” In June, the Urban Institute predicted that the 2020 census could lead to the worst undercount of Black and Latinx people. Black residents could be undercounted by as much as 3.68 percent and Latinx residents by as much as 3.57 percent, NPR reported.

“Miscounts of this magnitude will have real consequences for the next decade, including how we fund programs for children and invest in our infrastructure,” Diana Elliot, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, told NPR. The 2020 Census has nabbed headlines after the Trump administration fought to include a citizenship question in the survey. President Donald Trump has insisted that a question that asks people whether they are US citizens should be included in the upcoming population count. The Supreme Court rejected the government’s reason for adding the question in June. The Trump Administration then ordered the Census Bureau to begin printing census forms without the citizenship question on July 2. However, the Justice Department later told US District Court Judge George J. Hazel of Maryland that the administration believed there could be “a legally available path” to include a citizenship question. Despite the question being blocked, the Census Bureau is still asking about citizenship in its 2020 census test questionnaire, NBC News reported. The question has been included in printed forms sent to half of the 480,000 households randomly chosen for the test run. The question reportedly appears several times, particularly after asking what a person’s race is. The 2020 population count will also be digital. According to The New York Times, households will have the option — for the first time — to respond to the census survey online. Field workers visiting homes will have smartphones to record the information they collect. A turn to digital collection does bring disadvantages due to issues ranging from software glitches to cyberattacks from hackers. But the move towards an online platform may be necessary as the Census Bureau tackles increasing costs to conduct the census while facing a decline in response rates.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.